Sunday, April 17, 2011

J. J. Watt

College basketball is done. The NBA playoffs have begun. Spring football has started. The NFL is in a lockout. The Master's are over. Baseball season is underway. For most sports fans, these athletics take priority over high school cross country. Yet today I saw a special on ESPN on the San Francisco University High School girl's cross country team. And it was probably the most interesting bit of sports news I saw all morning. In case you didn't get to see it, I'll fill you in.

Since 1995, Jim Tracy has been the coach of boys and girls cross country at UHS. During that time, the teams have combined for 27 conference titles and 21 North Coast Section titles. The girls have won state 4 of the last 9 years and entering the 2010 season with 7 school championships, were tied for most in California history. Trouble began five years ago, when a muscle in his thumb stopped functioning. Two years later, when he was fifty-seven, during one of his daily 10-mile runs, he found that he was unable to lift one of his feet off the ground. In 2009, he finally went to a doctor. At age 60, he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Lou Gehrig's disease is a fatalistic disease that affects the neurons in the brain and the spinal cord. As it progresses, voluntary movement disintegrates. In random order, Jim Tracy is slowly losing control of all of his muscles.

At the start of the 2010 season, tears were shed when his team learned of his disease, and a decision was made. The girls decided that now, more than any other season, they had to win. "Do it for Jim" became their motto. Their determination was put to a test at the championship meet in Fresno last November.

The race was something special for each girl, and it showed. Sophomore Lizzy Teerlink ran the fastest race of her life by more than a minute and finished 36 out of 116. Senior Adrian Kerester, who had never run in a state final before, finished 25th. At the 100 yard mark, sophomore Jennie Callan fell and landed in last place. She passed more than 150 runners and finished 16th. Junior Bridget Blum, who had never led in a race before, led the entire pack for more than half the race and finish 3rd. When she crossed the finish line, though, instead of being excited, Coach Tracy was concerned. His captain and star runner, junior Holland Reynolds, hadn't finished yet. If she hadn't finished, Tracy assumed that something had gone very wrong.

At the 2.5 mile mark in a 3.1 mile race, Holland Reynolds was in 2nd place. Then the dehydration kicked in. Breathing became difficult and she slowed down, allowing other runners to pass her. As she approached the final stretch of the race, Reynolds was bent over, running at almost a ninety degree angle as she struggled to finish. With about 10 feet left, she collapsed. No one could help her - the official standing over her told her that if anyone assisted her at that moment, she would be disqualified. She had to walk or crawl to the finish line herself. And she did. Agonizingly slowly, Holland Reynolds crawled the remainder of the way to cross the finish line, where she was immediately picked up and transferred to an ambulance to be treated for dehydration. She finished in 37th place.

The way a cross country team places in a race is determined by the combined finishes of the top five runners. For UHS, this included Holland Reynolds. An hour after the race ended, Reynolds was given the news: by crawling across the finish line, she secured a victory for her team and an 8th state championship for her coach.

This isn't the first time that something like this has happened, of course. The most memorable incident that comes to mind is Derek Redmond in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, whose father helped him cross the finish line. It's pretty inspirational, nonetheless. There's a program to support Jim Tracy and learn more about ALS here.

Today's blog is in honor of J. J. Watt. While most mock drafts project Tyron Smith from USC to be selected 9th to the Dallas Cowboys, one version (by Brian Baldinger) has chosen Wisconsin's J. J. Watt. One article actually refers to Watt as the best defensive lineman in the draft because of his great instincts, long arms (34"), and impressive speed for a 290-lb guy. During NFL workouts, he placed first in the vertical jump and three-cone drill for defensive linemen. He's also been described as one of the "cleaner" prospects in the draft. He's kind of a jack of all trades and will play well in a 3-4 defense or a 4-3 defense, making him a very versatile draft pick.

The Sports Nerd

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