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The thoughts of writer John Rezell, who will write about anything, anytime, anywhere. So pay attention.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Visit the ONWard blog at OutdoorsNW.com for Raz's latest writing

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Summer Vacation

Posted by johnnieraz on June 15, 2019 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (2)

     "It's morning, I wake up, The taste of summer sweetness on my mind ..."

      — Rob Thomas, Streetcorner Symphony

      By John Rezell

      On one of my first grand adventures in Oregon nearly 14 years ago, one of my readers took me into the mountains, past an tiny, old store that simply had one word on the sign hanging on the door: Shut

      Summer's here, and my Saturday Morning Blog will be Shut while I spend as much time savoring the outdoors as humanly possible. I wish the same for you ...


A Hero's Last Goodbye

Posted by johnnieraz on May 27, 2019 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: I spent Memorial Day weekend camping in the wild, cut off from news and the Internet. I returned to learn that my childhood hero, Bart Starr, passed away. Here is a rewrite of the blog I wrote almost four years ago when he was about to make one of his last appearances at Lambeau Field.

By John Rezell

      I'm shedding more than a tear or two. To be honest, I just cried like a baby. 

      I've enjoyed a great life, really. There aren't enough thank yous on the planet to give it justice. 

      So none of my tears come from sorrow. Instead my tears pour forth from a place of pure joy. A place where, no matter what age you are, the air of childhood innocence floats back into your reality.

      I feel the embrace of unlimited potential, remembering what it's like to believe for the first time that you can make your life anything you want it to be. I say remember what it is like for the first time since I carry that feeling with me every day. Like I said, I'm a lucky man.

       I feel the yearning to rise to a lofty standard and be a great leader, knowing full well that I can battle from any depth if I believe in my heart and my convictions.

      I know this because I feel the power a hero can unleash upon a boy.

      I'm thankful for Bart Starr.

      Bart Starr played quarterback for the Green Bay Packers way back when, long before Charles Barkley made his claims that athletes shouldn't be heroes. The truth is that many athletes don't deserve to be heroes. The simple fact remains that Bart Starr set the standard for heroes.

      On the field, Bart Starr exhibited grace under pressure. He showed how to lead men. He was cleverly risky.

      Bart Starr led the Packers to five NFL Championships. Over coming challenges? Five titles is pretty good for a kid selected 200th in the draft. Yep, that's one position later than Tom Brady.

      What set Bart Starr apart, even for a young kid, was the way he handled himself. Always a Southern Gentleman. Polite. Well-spoken. A rock.

      I don't know why I decided I wanted to be a good man other than I wanted to be like Bart Starr

      When I faced my greatest moral challenge as a journalist and had everything to lose except my dignity, I thought of Bart Starr. It may sound funny, a grown man suddenly brought back to his youth. But that's what happened. Somewhere in those memories I found the strength of my conviction.

      Life is filled with countless encounters and influences. You never know who, what, when or where you might feel their effects.

      Luckily, I knew who.

      Bart Starr may be gone now, but that green No. 15 will always live on in my memories, and in my heart, guiding me as only he can.


Recycling Memories of America's Golden Age

Posted by johnnieraz on May 16, 2019 at 1:05 AM

       By John Rezell

     Beneath the sea of colorful jerseys hearts beat in a cacophony of rhythms, some chirping at the rate of a hummingbird, others the leisurely pace of a sloth.

      Behind dark sunglasses eyes sparkle with anticipation or glaze with dread. Each glimmering racing bike carrying a countless chest of memories and dreams.

      Once the gun sounds a symphony strikes its opening chords, soon to erupt into chaos eventually closing on a final note proclaiming who proves best on this given day.

       Since a huge chunk of my FB friends roll in the cycling community, I’m never completely out of the loop. But I don’t follow the sport anywhere near as close as I did in the ‘90s, as a freelancer and later editor of VeloNews.

       So each year when the Tour of California hits the airways I watch while my mind takes a trip down memory lane.

      While revelations have rewritten the history for that generation of riders in the ‘90s, I’ll forever call it the Golden Age of North American cycling. Never before, or since, has the U.S. and Canada had so many top level pros in men and women. That’s why I wrote my books.

       With another Olympic year on the horizon, long lost are the epic battles of ’92 and '96 for spots on those Olympic teams. The U.S. Trials for '96 were a diabolical test to ensure that only the most worthy don a U.S. Olympic jersey in Atlanta.

       I'll be honest, I have no idea what the current selection process is. I just have this gut feeling that part of the reason we lack the depth and talent that took on the world in the '90s has a bit to do with making life a pinch easier rather than much more challenging.

       As I watched so many cyclists stand at the starting lines in '92, '96 and '00, I could feel the power of their stories, so many of them sharing their insights and insecurities with me over the years.

      It's not one or two stories that stand out for me, but the collective mass. That's why their journeys from '92 to '96 are chronicled in my books, and how and why they impacted me to make me who I am today. To all of them, I say Thanks.

      https://www.conquermountains.com/a-more-simple-time" target="_blank">“A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul”  is available on https://www.amazon.com/More-Simple-Time-Cycling-Saved-ebook/dp/B00RKV2BZY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1419922175&sr=8-3&keywords=john+rezell" target="_blank">Amazon, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-more-simple-time-john-rezell/1120981162?ean=2940046481785" target="_blank">Barnes&Noble.com, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/502507" target="_blank">Smashwords and iTunes


First Taste of Greatness

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

    

       By John Rezell

     There's an aura that buzzes around extraordinary people, an electric field you can actually feel in their presence. You need not say a word nor shake a hand, but you feel it deep inside your soul there is something very, very special about them even if they haven't risen to their potential yet. I've been lucky to experience people like this throughout my career, but I'll never forget the first time when it caught me completely off guard.

     I drove up to Green Bay to attend a Packers preseason practice to get some quotes for a preview story. It was 1984, and former Packer and now head coach Forrest Gregg jogged over to a small huddle of reporters on the field.

     It's not that I was star-struck, even though I grew up a fanatic Packer Backer. I was a sportswriter now, and people who once appeared larger than life were just people I was interviewing. Heck, the days before that trip I was walking around Platteville, chasing Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka for quotes. Each time I'd catch up with him he'd fire me that Ditka growl, which in my mind was a sign of respect, born from our first introduction.

     As a sportswriter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, I got wind early that the Bears were going to move their preseason training to UW-Platteville, so I called Ditka to confirm. At first his secretary blew me off, saying he was unavailable. When she asked the reason for my call, I told her I was writing a story about the Bears coming to Platteville. She put me on hold. The next voice I heard barked at me, "How the hell did you hear that?" And so my relationship with Ditka began.

     Standing in that small group of reporters watching Forrest Gregg approach, I just prepared for a typical interview. Click on my tape recorder, start scribbling notes, ask a question or two if the local reporters didn't ask first. Then he stopped at our group, and the wave hit me. I actually froze.

     The interview began and I found myself simply in awe. I wasn’t taking any notes. My hand held my pen on my notebook as I simply absorbed the moment and felt his aura wash over me. I could feel this energy and intensity radiating from him while my mind was racing with a video history of him from playing days to sidelines coaching.

      What shocked me is that it took me completely by surprise because I wasn’t nervous or even thinking it would be anything special ahead of time. Just another day at work, another interview. Instead it was a moment for a lifetime.

      Forrest Gregg wouldn't be the last person to hit me with his aura, but he offered my first taste of the palpable vibe of being in the presence of greatness. RIP, No. 75.


Women Coaching Women

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)

 

     By John Rezell

      If you haven't watched it already, listen to Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw talk about women coaching in women's sports. After hearing her take, I couldn't help but think back to my daughters' experiences in sports. Without question, the women who coached them had tremendous influence and inspired them. Many of the men who coached them were dumpster fires.

     Let me preface by saying that my career in sportswriting established a framework of reality when it came to my daughters and sports. Well, that and my own lack of serious athletic genes contributed mightily to understanding that sports would never be more than an educational enhancement.

     We treated sports as a reward for my daughters' hard work in the classroom. They started by enjoying gymnastics classes and eventually played volleyball. Despite the difficulties of being a one income family by choice — my wife and I decided when we started a family that one of us would stay home to raise our girls — we found ways to pay for club entries.

      Sadly, if I'm honest, we paid thousands of dollars over the years for a few men to completely destroy my daughters' love of volleyball. Interspersed were islands of joy where women were in control and established wonderfully positive atmospheres where my daughters thrived and learned the lessons that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

     But the experiences with male coaches, aside from a few exceptions, were riddled with stereotypical team issues and drama that, from my point of view, can simply be attributed to male ego/testosterone bullcrap. That is to say, the male coach's egos appeared to be the focal point of their attention as opposed to say, the experience of their players.

     I've met, covered and watched closely many male coaches who know their trade and were excellent role models. Unfortunately, my daughters didn't get that from all their male coaches. The sense I got more than anything was that those coaches who failed them failed because they felt that women should be treated exactly how men should be treated. And while a number of important aspects of behavior and motivation are in common for both genders, it is not a completely 100 percent situation.

     My many years spent around sports prompted me to sit back and let things play out the way they did with my daughters. I could have confronted the coaches, but I've seen how that can go south in a hurry for all parties involved. Instead, I figured my daughters would learn from the experiences and take that knowledge with them as they battle forward in life. Unfortunately it won't be the last time they face this gender mess, but as with all life experiences, they grew with each incident and appear better equipped to deal with future challenges.

     There is a huge value in young women seeing first hand women in positions of power and influence. I could see how that lifted self confidence and instilled a sense of pride and ownership in my daughters. Life is always a mixed bag, but at least they found a couple of the right ingredients for future success.

Been There, Done That?

Posted by johnnieraz on March 2, 2019 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     From the moment my first byline story appeared in our high school newspaper, my Grandma Rezell beamed with pride, and each time I saw her after that she'd find the chance to pull me to the side and say, "I've got a great story to tell you one day ..."

     Like most teenagers, I believed I had all the time in the world. So many other things captured my imagination. Sadly, that one day never arrived.

     One Friday afternoon I returned from college to learn from my Aunt Esther that Grandma Rezell passed away. Esther and Grandma lived together a few blocks away.

     The next few hours were mayhem, getting my Aunt to the bank, picking up my Dad and telling him his Mother had passed away, then dropping him off at my Aunt's house and picking up my Mom to tell her the news. I've always wondered about Grandma's story.

    Finding your roots is all the rage these days, with plenty of companies cashing in on that quest.

     I did some research many years ago, prompted by some old writing handed down from a Great Uncle as well as my Dad. There are interesting tales.

     My Dad's family, the Trundes, came to America from Austria-Hungary in 1887, landing in Nova Scotia and taking the railroad to the end of the line in McCook, Nebraska. They continued on to Yuma, Colorado, where they set their first roots getting free land from the government.

     There's a whole story in there, but what struck me most upon reflection years after reading the accounts is how I have, possibly by design, possibly by coincidence, have traced those roots.

     When I left The Orange County Register to launch a freelance career of my own, my first solo roadtrip was to Wichita Falls, Texas for the Hotter 'n' Hell bike race. At one point the family made the long trip from Yuma to Wichita Falls for a possible move.

     My Uncle wrote of the long wagon ride that included waking up one morning to snow covering everything. It look a month or so. I thought about that years later when I made the move from Loveland, Colorado to Austin, Texas, driving along the highway and completing the trip in two days.

     That I worked in Boulder but bought a house in Loveland, just a few miles outside the tiny town of Berthoud seemed like a bizarre twist of fate. I stumbled upon this home that had a beautiful red rock outcropping that moved me deep inside, and we bought it on my birthday.

     Only years later would I revisit my Uncle's writing and learn that two of my Great Great Uncles moved to Berthoud at the same time when my Great Great Grandfather headed to Wisconsin, starting my family roots there.

     When the family headed off in different directions, they left for Wisconsin, Berthoud and Newberg, Oregon. Yes, Newberg, just about 30 miles from where I live today.

     I'm not sure if I'm retracing or reliving or ...

     Speaking of cashing in, on my Mom's side, one of her aunts did the research at one time and discovered they are Daughters of the American Revolution, which, of course, makes my daughters DAR, although you have to actually pay for the right to say that.

     Only in America.

Thanks, Jake

Posted by johnnieraz on February 6, 2019 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

     EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a series of Thank You essays to people who have helped make me who I am today.

     By John Rezell

     If you’re really lucky in life, you’ll cross paths with someone who really understands who you are, deep down to your soul. If you’re super lucky, you’ll meet them early in life, when they have the opportunity to make a difference.

     My stars aligned when I met Jake.

      I can’t remember the day I met Jake. Or the first time I saw that bright, mischievous smile followed by his deep chuckle. I just remember countless miles in White Lightning, his Monte Carlo, plying the roads of Brookfield, Elm Grove and beyond singing to our own private tunes with endless laughter.

     Jake saw me, and most people, for who we are. For better or worse I can’t remember him making any serious effort to change or alter who I was. No probing to figure out why I was who I was. He just accepted me.

      We shared some quirky traits and elements of our personalities that we weren’t necessarily proud of, nor ever really exposed to others, but they formed the foundation of a friendship that I cherished as much as any I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime.

      I could spend days telling tales of our adventures, which nearly 100 percent of the time included beer or spirits — even our days working together as security guards for Summerfest.

      Although sometimes years went by without us getting together, when we would reconnect, the time between would fade to nothing.

     It pains me that I couldn't make it to his funeral, to say goodbye. But then again, we've never really parted.  

      And so it continues, to this day. So often a song, an image, or just a random memory popping out of nowhere, will bring Jake back into my life.

     His smile as bright and mischievous as ever.

     His chuckle as deep.

     Thanks, Jake.

     We sang a song …

DDWIL#2: Cat Scratch Fever

Posted by johnnieraz on December 15, 2018 at 1:10 AM

By John Rezell

     Cats have been on my mind a lot lately.

     No, I haven't been watching videos online. I've been out riding and hiking. And it appears it's just a matter of time before we cross paths.

     Again.

    This all started last March, when my black lab Ridgely and I were riding one of our local logging roads here in Oregon.

    These rides begin with about an hour or so of climbing followed by the return descent when I'm alone. At age 12, the countless hours and miles on the trail have caught up with Ridgely, so we drove to the gate and went for a shorter outing.

    On the way back down, we swept around a corner to see a rather huge cougar on the road about 100 yards ahead. As soon as we came in its sight, it stopped sniffing the ground, took a look at us, then took one hop followed by a tremendously impressive 12-plus foot leap as it disappeared into the woods.

      Yikes! That will get your heart-rate going.

     Not much you can do when there is only one way out, so I slowed to a crawl on the steep descent, pulling out my big knife — which I realistically call my False Sense of Security — and positioned the bike between Ridgely and the cougar's side of the road.

     I whooped and hollered as we crept past the exit zone. We made it out just fine.

     Since then, the evidence of cougars has increased. I ride up there a couple times a week, mostly alone now that Ridgely can't keep up.

     Last week I rode past a deer leg, from hip to hoof, cleaned down to the bone. Another half mile up I found a second leg.

     I figure that's good news for me. The cougar(s?) appear to be well fed.

     Recently some other gates were opened up for hunting season. On a different route I found a number of trucks driving around back where I usually have miles and miles to myself.

     I passed one truck off to the side, the driver surveying the meadow with binoculars. When he eventually drove past me five minutes later he reported that he stopped because a cougar crossed the road right in front of him.

    This all comes at a time when cougar news is hot in the Northwest. Two mountain bikers outside Seattle were attacked in the spring, with one killed, and a hiker near Mt. Hood was killed this summer.

     If that's not enough, I've had a couple cougar dreams recently.

     I know I'm no match for a cougar, even if at any point during an attack I actually managed to get a hold of my knife.

     More than a few years ago, this would have spooked me to the point of changing my routines, avoiding some places.

     These days, I just can't seem to do that. I'm so lucky to be able to roll out of my driveway and in 20 minutes or so be lost in the comfort of nature. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. Literally.

     I've said for years I plan to live to 130. I still believe that. However, if some cougar decides to change my course of history, it will fall under DDWIL — Died Doing What I Love ...

Remembering Paul Sherwen

Posted by johnnieraz on December 2, 2018 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     I just heard of the passing of Paul Sherwen. So sad. He was a class act.

     My primary interactions with him were back when he was the Media guy for Motorola as Lance Armstrong rose to prominence. He always managed to get me time with Lance, and was surprised when Lance would give me access other writers weren't privy to.

     My favorite Paul Sherwen story comes from the 1995 CoreStates race in Philadelphia, when Norm Alvis escaped from a late breakaway that included Lance to win. Lance disappeared immediately following the race, headed for the Holiday Inn. While every other reporter went to the press conference, I grabbed Norm right as he crossed the line for his quotes, then bolted for the hotel. I knew the true story of the race sat with Lance, and I wanted to get the scoop.

     Here is an excerpt from my book, "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong."

     RIP Paul

BEGIN EXCERPT

     Without question, the real story of the race would come from Lance. He held all the cards for the past six weeks, and held them again in Philly. It reminded me much too much of my first encounter with him in Altoona. As strong as he was, there was little doubt in my mind that Lance controlled this race. If he wasn’t going to win, he would certainly decide who would. So I ran back to the hotel, which is about a 15-minute walk from the finish area. I found Paul Sherwen in the lobby and asked if I could get the chance to talk to Lance. Paul looked stunned that I was at the hotel. He asked me, "Isn’t there a press conference going on right now?" I said, yep, it’s probably still going. "And you’re here?" This is where the story is, I said.

      He disappeared up the elevator and left me in the lobby, with all the autograph-seeking freds. We all stood there waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The autograph-seeking freds asked my advice on where to corner some unsuspecting Motorola riders, so, hey, I told them. I'd hang around the van if I were you. They disappear ... then reappear ... then disappear ... as time slows to a crawl.

      Paul comes down after 15 minutes and assures me that Lance said he will come down before jetting out of town. I believe him because, frankly, when he says it's impossible to get 30 seconds with Lance he's right, so in this case I'm confident the opposite will be true. I’m writing some of my story in my head. As time drags on I start to scribble some notes. Nearly everyone who is anyone has passed me by not once, but usually twice, en route to their rooms for luggage and then out the door heading to the airport. The only riders who haven’t come past are ones still at the press conference or drug testing.

       Paul, the quirky Brit he is, seems to be having a glorious time passing by every five minutes to see whether or not I will endure. I inform him I always get my man, just like the Texas Rangers. He tells me it's the bloody Canadian Mounties who say that. God save the Queen! Who am I to argue? For the 15th time he says Lance will be down soon. For the 15th time I inform him I'll get a cot and sleep here if I have to. Eventually I looked at my watch. I've waited an hour and 45 minutes for Lance, even though I have to write stories for six different newspapers. I know the only way out of the building is through this lobby, from the elevator. I have to take a leak something fierce, but I’m not backing down. It doesn't bother me to wait. In fact, it’s exhilarating. This, I tell myself over and over, is what separates me from everyone else. It's worth it.

      Lance eventually comes down the elevator, and we retire to the hotel pub. He sits down, orders a beer, and answers my questions, even the ones that offend him a little. He's Lance and I'm Raz, and he's just doing his job and I'm just doing mine. Lance tells me about his attack.

      "Certainly I felt strong on the climb," Lance said. "I got a nice gap, but with that distance to go, that's hard. I had four guys behind me with no teammate to neutralize them. I was doomed."

      He didn’t have a teammate because Steve Bauer crashed just at the base of Manayunk. The plan was to have Bauer bridge up to Lance. Still, Lance felt strong and wondered if he could pull it off all by himself. He held on for 11 miles, with the city of Philadelphia totally behind him. He saw the gap coming down, and eventually sat up — the cycling equivalent of throwing in the towel on that move.

       "I knew it was over," Lance said. "I was pretty tired at that point. I could have chased Norm, but then I would have just given the other guys a free ride, and frankly, I would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      "It's hard because we made the race. We did all the work, we did all the chasing and I felt we deserved to win the race. But that's bike racing. That's the nature of the sport."

       Those are the quotes I used in my stories, which pretty much filled in the details of the moves that made the race. Including, specifically, the most revealing quote when Lance said he would prefer that Norm win the jersey.

      When Lance said that, he saw my glare that I'd been holding up my sleeve since Chann McRae won his national title in Altoona. Lance looked at me and started getting pissed right away. He knew where this was headed. So, I said, you let him win?

      "I wouldn't exactly say that," Lance said, rather snippy. "I wasn't alone, the other guys could have chased."

       You would have probably chased them down, too, right?

       "Hell yeah," he barked, not wasting a heartbeat, "because they didn't deserve it. Norm did."

       Just like Chann did? I asked.

       He stopped short. Then, he just laughed, calmed down and took a swig of his beer. He looked at me with that sparkle of respect in his eyes. We kinda looked around and realized most eyes in the bar were on us. They were watching, but keeping a respectable distance. No autograph requests. He let his look linger, then spoke up.

      "Why in the hell did you wait two hours for me to come down here?" he asked. "Why in the hell did you come over here in the first place? Why weren't you at the press conference? That was still going on when you got here."

       So, I said, you knew exactly when I got here, and you've been just testing me?

       He smiled.

       "You'd have waited another two hours if you had to, wouldn't you?" he asked.

       I nodded.

        "I don't understand you at all," he said, shaking his head again.

Listen, I said, I'm writing a story about the race. You can call me crazy if you want, but in my estimation, that race was decided the moment Norm attacked and you decided to let him go. Just like you did for Chann in Altoona. It's not quite as obvious as pulling over in the final stretch at Pittsburgh a few weeks back to let Andrea win, but it's still the same. There was only one man in that race today who had the sole power to determine who wears that jersey for the next year, and that was you. I wanted to hear your side of the story. The folks I'm writing for back in Austin want to know your side of the story. Anyone who reads an account of this race deserves to know the real story, and the only ones who will know the real story are the ones who read my story.

       Again, he just looked at me with his quizzical eyes, lost in utter disbelief, attempting to understand my perspective, but having more than a bit of trouble with it.

     END EXCERPT

2017 Total Eclipse in Dallas, Oregon

Posted by johnnieraz on December 15, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

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Watching the total eclipse in Dallas, Oregon will be remembered forever. Wow.


A Perfect Introduction

Posted by johnnieraz on February 4, 2017 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)


Linda Brennemann with her son Benjamin on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, 1995.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As I celebrate the 2nd anniversary of publishing, this excerpt from my book "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul" tells how it all started, when I went to a local race at the Ziggurat in Laguna Niguel to start learning about bicycle racing in 1989.

Perfect introduction

    The secret culture of cycling lives in the local races. Pause for a moment and envision an industrial park near your house that is a virtual ghost town on most weekends. Wide, well-paved streets without traffic. My bet is that it is hardly a ghost town. It’s cycling nirvana.

    In Orange County, that place is known as the Ziggurat in Laguna Niguel. The county building looks, you guessed it, like a Ziggurat. That's where the local hotshots get together for races. It's nothing more than an adult version of a neighborhood challenge. Draw a line on the street. Line everyone up. Yell go! The magic begins.

    They have these training races in the raw once a week — usually on Tuesday nights. About every four to six weeks, a local promoter gets off his bike and grabs a clipboard. A couple of other enthusiasts park their bikes and put on officials' jackets, with real USA Cycling Federation patches. Instead of one huge free-for-all race, they meet on Saturday or Sunday. The contestants group by age and skill level. They pin numbers onto their jerseys. A real race evolves. Heck, even the wife and kids come out and run around in the sun. They have a guy who shouts into a PA system and plays loud music. Somebody shows up to sell T-shirts and jerseys. You can usually buy fresh organic bakery. They even roll in Port-a-Potties, although never enough.

    I headed to the Ziggurat for one of those races to begin my real journey into the world of cycling. That's my style. While my high school pal Bud Geracie jumped from the University of Wisconsin to The Associated Press covering the Brewers, I went grass-roots from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to a small daily newspaper in Fort Atkinson as a do-it-all sports editor (that is, write stories, take photographs and layout the pages). I worked my way up, learning the essence of my trade. The same was true with cycling. I could have just waited for a big one to taste the high life. But, that wouldn't be me.

    So I watched the races unfold with a handful of spectators. This wasn't the spoon-fed pack journalism that pro beat reporters know. There would be no official play-by-play typed up and handed to me at the end of the race so I could refer to key moments. There would be no rider bios in a media guide, to allow me to delve into background stories unless I did the digging myself. No compilation of post-game quotes to refer to. No official press conference afterward, nor a Sports Information Director or head of Media Relations to track down an athlete for an interview. Heck, there weren't even any rosters or scorecards. Just a couple hundred cyclists racing around with numbers pinned to their jerseys. When each race ended, the officials scribbled the numbers in order of finish on a sheet of paper taped to the side of a trailer.

    What there was, however, was quintessential athletics. No hype, no pomp, no circumstance. Just pure, unadulterated athletic competition.

    To be honest, there was something else that set these races apart from the weekly sprint fest. The promoter would shell out a few bucks afterward. Maybe $100 to the winner of the main event. Or new tires. Or a box of energy bars. Or new water bottles. Not enough to get rich, by any means, but enough to make someone feel appreciated. I suddenly realized I had a lot more in common with these folks than I knew. I could remember the mantra from journalism professors in college: You'll never get rich doing this. You have to do it because you love it.

     Oh, man, I was loving it. I was sitting under the warm Southern California sun, hiking around the course over and over again, studying how the riders took corners, where they attacked, where they let up. My active role in pursuit of my story was nothing new. I thought about the countless Friday nights covering high school football, when I would ply the sidelines, marching up and down, alongside the players and coaches, soaking in the reality of the event — and sometimes soaking in the rain, or even, at times, snow. My hands so numb I could barely keep my notes. My ink running together. My hands shivering. Then I'd look at my competition in the press box. Warm and cozy. Sanitized. The next morning, guess whose story captured the true essence of the game in a way no one could ever really put their finger on?

    I looked around this new world of bike racing and wondered where in the hell those "real" sports journalists would plant their fat asses, waiting for the victors to grace them with an interview. There was no such place. That, more than anything, let me know I'd found home.

Perfect timing

    The elite women were the first category of note — that is, category that I would focus on and write about — to finish their race. No one had any idea there was a reporter on hand to record the proceedings. As I'd find out over the years, even armed with such knowledge, cyclists had a tendency to disperse like cockroaches when a light flicks on when the race is over. As the women screamed across the finish line in a blur of colors, I managed to write down the top five numbers and make a photographic memory of the jersey on the winner. The search began.

    Suddenly all the jerseys looked the same. All the women looked the same — shiny helmets, great tans, dark sexy sunglasses and bouncy ponytails. Finally, my luck struck. There she was. The winner.

    I hurried over and introduced myself. She smiled with more than a hint of embarrassment at the attention. Great timing. Breathing heavily, sweat trickling down her cheeks, she drank from her water bottle.

    "Hi. I'm John Rezell, from The Orange County Register," I said, offering my hand.

    "Linda Brenneman," she said, returning the gesture.

    I began to pepper her with questions about the race. She smiled and took her time with her answers, pausing to watch me scribble in my notebook.

    Red alert!

    The moment that happens — when the interviewee becomes consumed with watching what I'm recording — her spontaneity would disappear. Time for my secret weapon.

    Over the years, my endless scribbling in the notebook became second nature. So much so, that I don't have to look at what I'm writing. So I went to stealth mode, refusing to drop my eyes to my notebook. She threw me a double-take the moment she realized she was the only one looking at the notebook now. She flashed another smile, and along with it a sparkle of respect in her eyes. She took another long drink from her water bottle, kind of sizing me up. I could tell she thought to herself, "Hmmm. He's done this before." I could read in her eyes that she had done this before, too. The feeling was mutual.

     We talked for a healthy 10-15 minutes as I milked the energy of the moment. This is what I loved about real journalism. The moment. This is when a journalist captures the essence of athletics. When an athlete's heart-rate pounds feverishly. When the endorphins and adrenaline surge throughout their finely tuned systems. This is the moment television often attempts to capture, but often fails to do so, simply because the athlete suddenly has a microphone and a camera unnaturally shoved in her face, and the reporter blabbers something that only remotely resembles a question, much less an insightful question. This is the moment that sports writers sitting in mass press conferences never see, unless they are watching the video feed as their way of "covering" an event. They're usually digging into the buffet one last time before heading down to the conference room to talk to the athlete after a cold shower.

    The interview ran its course. She caught her breath. Then I needed to get back to square one. The basics. Linda with an "i" or "y"? How do you spell Brenneman? Where do you live? How old are you? What can you tell me about your career?

    "Well," she said, her eyes laser-locked on mine as to not miss my reaction, "I'm a member of the U.S. National Team. Last year I raced in the women's Tour de France ..."

     She didn't have to be looking at my notebook to know that my pen froze. A smile crept across her face. An invitation into her world. We talked for nearly another half-hour, much of it revolving around my explanation of what I was doing at a local bike race, the necessity to become an expert, and all. Then I heard the muffled megaphone in the distance calling the Pro 1-2 men to the starting line. I got her phone number and promised to follow-up and keep tabs of her progress. She thanked me for my time. I could see from her warm smile and sparkling eyes, she meant it.

    The men's race seemed to blow past in an instant. There were so many attacks and counter attacks, breakaways and chases, bursts and lulls, that I began to run out of room in my notebook. By jotting down every little move, however neurotic, I got a firm grasp of the mechanics of a race. The magnitude of the action. A marathon comprised of countless 100-yard dashes.

    In the end, in the final sprint up a short, and not very steep incline, a dude with golden Southern California locks dancing from beneath his helmet dashed to the front and won the race. Again, I scribbled the number down. Tried to remember the jersey. I embarked on the ultimate "Where's Waldo" mission.

    It was the last race of the day. A stampede heading to the parking lots known as Southern California freeways. Then, amazingly enough, there he was.

    I rushed over. Once again ...

    "Hi, I'm John Rezell, from The Orange County Register," I said.

    "Hello, John Rezell from The Orange County Register," he said, almost mocking me. "I'm Steve Hegg."

     Without missing a beat, I jumped into a question about the final sprint. He looked at me, then glanced around to see if there were any witnesses to this bizarre scene. He shook his head for a moment, then indulged me. He spoke with passion and excitement. All along the way, he dropped in tidbits about the nuances of bicycle racing, pausing momentarily to see if I'd flinch. I didn't. I simply absorbed the energy of the moment.

    I began to realize that he feasted on that energy, my determination to let the moment run its course. His love of racing bubbled forth like champagne spilling over the edge of a glass. No container would be big enough to handle his outburst.

    He went on and on, dissecting the race, almost moment-by-moment, the way a professional golfer sits at a table and recounts his round for the fat-ass sports writers who were even too lazy to watch it on the TV monitor, much less hump around a course for a few holes and burn off some of the press-room donuts. He'd mention a move mid-race, and since I had noted it, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

     When he finished, and his heart-rate stabilized, he took a drink from his water bottle and began to pack up.

    "Thanks for coming out, John Rezell from The Orange County Register," he said, offering his hand with a sincere gesture. I could tell he, too, had been here, done this. I shook his hand and asked if he had a few extra minutes. He looked at me as if to say, "Pinch me, I'm dreaming."

    Yes, I wanted more.

    "Sure," he said, "I'm all yours, baby."

    I flipped my notebook back a few pages, to the start of the interview. He talked about the uphill sprint.

    "What exactly do you mean about an uphill sprint?" I asked. "I mean, that isn't exactly a hill, but it is an incline. Is there a difference?"

    Again, he looked at me in disbelief. He couldn't wait to explain. Back and forth, we went, for nearly an hour. I'd flip back to something he said — those nuances — and he'd give a detailed explanation. Not just any explanation, but a simple, honest, account in layman's terms. Breaking down cycling for anyone to understand. For a moment I was taken back to the first interview I did with a real athlete back as a senior in high school, talking to Milwaukee area Olympian Jim Ochowicz.

    I felt like the Indian in "One Flew Over The Coo-coo's Nest."

    Ahhhh, cyclists.

    Eventually I had gleaned every last ounce of information from him that I could. Again, back to the absolute basics.

    "Hegg," I said, "how do you spell that?"

    He laughed loudly. "H-E-G-G!"

     I followed with machine gun speed. Where you from? How old? What's you background?

     "Well," he said, flashing the same know-it-all-smile I had seen an hour earlier, "I won a gold medal at the LA Olympics ..."

     I froze. He erupted with laughter, firing me his trademark Gotchya look.

     "Really?" I asked.

     "Really," he said.

     The day after my story ran in the Community section, I got a postcard from Steve Hegg. He thanked me for coming out and covering cycling, but more so for taking the time to learn and understand that sport — something he had never seen from a reporter in all his years of racing a bike. He signed it, "Golden Boy."

 


Steve Hegg ambushed by autograph seekers at the Tour of China, 1995.

Barb and that desk

Posted by johnnieraz on December 17, 2013 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

It's my brother Jim's birthday! Also the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.


Not even I can come up with a stretch transition to get to the point of today's news.


Nope. It goes back to Barb, my sister and the oldest of the clan.


As I've worked on my book on the early days of covering bike racing in the US, tentatively titled "A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul," I hear Barb's voice in the back of my head over and over.


"When are you going to tell your story of Lance Armstrong?" she asked me about 10 months ago, just after Lance went on Oprah and finally spilled his guts.


"I think everyone is pretty much OD'd on Lance Armstrong," I told her.


"Sure there are a lot of people who are," she said, "but there are a lot of people who would still be interested in anything about him."


As I read my book, two things became clear.


First, without question, although my interactions with Lance Armstrong had a profound impact on me, in the grand scheme of my life as a cycling journalist, they represent small fraction of what made American cycling so dynamic at that time and what inspried me on a daily basis.


Second, without question, combining all those stories in one book means that once again Lance would overshadow the real story.


Therefore, Barb, you will get your wish. I will tell my Lance Armstrong story separately. On its own.


What's that mean for me? Oh, just a rewrite of the mammoth "A More Simple Time" and the writing of a whole new book.


Sierra graduates in six months. Time to write.

.

I need to write

Posted by johnnieraz on October 5, 2013 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

Although I write every day for my job, I've been on a long sabbatical from writing for myself. That feels strange. That has to change.


I've been writing for as long as I can remember. It all began with the desk.


My sister Barb is the oldest of five in the Rezell clan. Must have been around third grade when she married and moved out.


She left behind this magnificent old wooden desk with ornate trim and a dark, varnish finish.


The desk itself felt as though it had stories to tell. My imagination buzzed as I would sit at it, my feet propped up, and fantasize about being a writer.


It's funny now, because in the past nine years all of my writing has been done at the kitchen table. Or picnic table.


Each hand-carved feature of that childhood desk called to me. Each image sparking a fresh thought in my head. I literally felt it would take a lifetime to chronicle all those ideas.


Through the years, when I wasn't writing for my job, I was still writing on my own. Sometimes about my job. Sometimes about my life. Sometimes a bit of each.


Quite possibly that motivation to have material to write about fueled this wonderful life adventure I've experienced.


From the moment I left high school, my mantra was simple. If it's true that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die, I want my movie to be the most entertaining in the history of man. Even if it's just an audience of one.


That's where my path changes course from many writers. I'm comfortable with an audience of one. I don't write for anyone other than myself. Understand that I do, in the end, want someone to read my material and I want it to make an impact. It's just that, really, I write for it to meet my standards and no one else.


In a career of writing for newspapers, magazines and the Internet, that philosophy saved me from endless hours of angst that many writers endure, battling tooth-and-nail with an editor over changing a word here, deleting a sentence there or calling for a complete rewrite.


As long as my story was exactly what I wanted it to be when I made my final read, that was fine. What anyone did with it afterward, well, I did my part. That's what I got paid to do. An editor gets paid to do what they have to do.


When I became a parent, that changed a little in my personal writing. At some level, everything I write is targeted at my daughters. The goal is that they can someday understand a little better who I am, and why I am who I am.


As I venture into this new chapter of writing in my life, I see that I have a lot of material in the bank. It's time to review. You have to look at where you've been to know where you need to go.



The start of something

Posted by johnnieraz on September 5, 2013 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell


Just before dropping behind a ridge, the early evening sunlight slices through the trees, lighting up the golden bark of a huge Ponderosa pine at Whispering Creek Campground.


Aside from the buzz of an occasional yellow jacket, it's quiet as an empty church. There is not another soul for miles. Quiet enough to hear a trickle of water in the small creek down the ravine just behind my campsite.

 

On one level, this feels so right, nature somehow calling me out here this weekend with my Black Lab Ridgely, treating my senses one-by-one to the amazing wonders.

 

On another level, it feels wrong, being here alone.

 

While practically all my camping experiences include my wife, Debbie, and daughters Sierra and Taylor, this one does not.

 

They are off visiting colleges. In a blink of an eye, a few days, actually, Sierra will begin her senior year of high school. Her time to dream big has arrived.

 

In that respect, it makes sense that I'm called back to nature. This is my dream school, nature. It has been for the past 10 years or so.

 

After years of playing the me-first game, and focusing on career ascension in journalism, I came back to my roots.


I became a stay-at-home Dad, and helped raise two amazing young women. Together we've bonded with nature, and found inspiration outdoors, in a forest, in a lake, on a river, and on a mountaintop.

 

The move to be Mr. Mom was a calculated risk. We knew there would be financial consequences by relying on one income. The benefits of raising our children by ourselves, we believed, would outweigh the drawbacks. We firmly believed that.


Until now.

 

Now we wonder a bit. Because now my daughters have dreams. I want desperately to help make them come true. That might be harder than ever. It all begins with paying for college.

 

I sit at my campsite and wonder, how will we do that? Somewhere I find comfort. It will happen. It always does.

 

You see, my father always told me not to worry so much about money. You'll always make money, he told me, the ups and downs will always even out.

 

He grew up during The Depression, and saw vibrant economic growth for the rest of his life. How could he have envisioned the economic turmoil of the last five years? How could anyone have seen that coming?

 

Our plan was simple. I stay home until the girls reach Middle School. Then I crank it up and get back in the job force. Two incomes and we'll be set by high school graduation.

 

We didn't see me being unemployed for two years. And both Debbie and I unemployed for a stretch in there. So the challenges we face, although somewhat anticipated, are a little more, uh, challenging.

 

The sun dancing around on my favorite trees, the Ponderosa pines, enlightens me. Instead of sitting and worrying, I'm writing. That isn't so strange, since that's what I've done most of my life.

 

It is strange because I haven't done that much lately, for various reasons. Just then, it hit me.

 

That could be the solution. Writing. Nature. Family. Yeah, that's right. Back to my roots. Back to my dreams I created as I prepared to start my senior year of high school.


I don't know where this is heading. I just know, like all the adventures in my life, it should prove to be interesting.

 

 

 



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