Monday, July 28, 2008

Liu Xiang Readies for Beijing Olympics

There is a special treat in this week's Time Magazine, especially for those of us who are veterans and fans of tack & field, that forgotten sport that one only reads about in Sunday editions after the baseball scores have been reported and analyzed. But every four years in the spirit of Peace, it becomes our time again to celebrate and recall the days of our youth. It becomes a time again to celebrate health and youth and vitality. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics are about to begin.

Pictured above is Liu Xiang. He is already a legend in his home country. Like the ancient martial artists, itinerant mendicants, Buddhist monks and Taoist wise men of China whom we have romanticized in the West, Liu's athletic success has depended upon unyielding concentration, disciplined training and a dedication to technical perfection. He is a hurdler.

Born in Shanghai, China, July 13, 1983, Xiang represents the hopes of his countrymen and has obtained to the status of national hero since winning the gold medal in Athens four years ago before going on to set a world record. He is only surpassed in fame by his countryman, Yao Ming, who plays for the NBA's Huston Rockets -- except during the Olympics when he joins his countrymen to play for the Chinese national basketball team.

Xiang was born two months before my "rebirth" into recovery, so I figure we're cohorts of the same generation of sorts.

Hurdling requires the focus and technique of someone in samadhi, like the ancient Zen archers of Japan. This young man stunned the nation of China when he came out of relative obscurity to win the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 110m hurdles, giving China her first gold medal in the summer games' sprint events. He has been blazing ever since. In July of 2006 he broke the world record for the second time and became the 6th man in history to run under 13 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles, with a time of 12.88 seconds.

That is blazing. I took the liberty of clipping this brief from his English website.

His current rival, Dayron Robles of Cuba, bested that time this year, clocking in at 12.87 seconds, only one-one/hundreth of a second faster.

In late May of this year, Xiang developed a strained right hamstring. He had to drop out of the meet the following week and was disqualified for twice jumping the gun in the next. Nevertheless, he has been able to take care of himself, preventing re-injury while staying in shape though the next several competitions in preparation for the big event coming in August.

The Olympics are certainly considered the big event, occurring only once every four-years, and carries more status among athletes and fans than even the World Championships.

Undoubtedly, he will be going into the Beijing Olympics facing his rival while still recovering. There is something about those odds that I admire deeply. Therefore, I will be following his progress with a personal interest, since I am a person with a heightened dedication to those in recovery, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. My concern is also aroused because of my identification with him, having experienced injury to the same muscle as a high school hurdler; although in my case, the hamstring muscle was torn during the regional meet at the end of my senior year, forcing me from the race and crushing my dreams of returning to the state finals.

In addition to his love of hurdling, this young man is possessed of a peerless social conscience. Even before the historic earthquake on May 12th of this year, a monster that the USGS meaursed at 7.9, devastated the Sichuan Province and resulted in what some have estimated to be up to 69,000 casualties, Liu Xiang had already joined with Jet Li in his relief efforts organized through The One Foundation, which Li founded, helping victims of the 2004 tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, the New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2007 earthquake victims of China's Yunnan Province. In May, Xiang teamed up with his coach, Sun Haiping, to donate a large sum of money to the Sichuan Province relief effort, while he continues to work with Jet Li's organization as well.
I wish him the blessings and protections of the ancient ones. May he continue to represent his family and the many peoples of his country in a manner that recognizes and celebrates the greatest of their common traditions in upholding honor, right effort, good sportsmanship and responsible citizenship.

We certainly have much to learn from the peoples of the East regarding what we once held sacred, but no more honor -- the common good and the related tradition of noblesse oblige.

Explosive starts have also contributed to Xiang's success.
It goes without saying that he is the product of talented coaching.
Below is his coach, Sun Haiping, who is undoubtedly like a father to him.

It also goes without saying that Coach Sun has known for a long,
long time how to get around despite the high cost of gasoline.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Be Still and Know That I Am God"

Over the 4th of July weekend, I took my camera to San Solomon Springs. I was tired of admiring everyone else's snapshots of the pool and thought since I live here I should post some of my own pictures to the blog.

I didn't see a soul from Ba
lmorhea, which is fine since they never see me there either. For a former Barton Springs Polar Bear from Austin, who swam (nearly) every day for years in snow and sunshine, I have scant excuse for coming so seldom to the pool here at Balmorhea State Park. It rivals Barton Springs in every way except for the persistent environmental threats posed by Austin development. In fact, I felt so guilty, being a "local" with so little time to come out and relax, that I purchased a season pass with a personal commitment to come more often and haven't been back.

While I was at the pool, a small group of women and their daughters caught my attention next to me. They were lazily feeding breadcrumbs to the catfish and the thousands and thousands of minnows and pupfish swimming up from the bottom. What a sight! While I was standing there, camera in hand, too respectful of their privacy and too shy to invade for a picture, one of the more socially outgoing of their kids noticed my interest and came to drag me into the center of their catfish picnic.

It didn't take much
of a nudge really and in the midst of their vacation I had the honor to enjoy a brief conversation with the group's elder states-person, Beth Pratt, the retired religion editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. We talked about journalism and she related some of her 25-years of experience. It was my first interview as a "journalist" following a 20-year counseling career.

Saturday, th
e article Ms. Pratt began writing while vacationing here in Balmorhea was published, so I thought I'd share parts of it, provide photos and link to the Avalanche for the rest of her article.

"...An Opportunity to 'Be still and know I am God'"

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Story last updated at 7/19/2008 - 1:34 am

For seven years, beginning when Addison was 3, a group of young women every year booked a week at Balmorhea State Park about 100 miles south of Odessa. Every year I heard about the great spring-fed pool with little fish swimming all around and a big turtle on the bottom.

More than 25 feet deep in parts of the pool, the clearness of the water is deceptive. Addison can swim all the way to the bottom. The group changed yearly as children grew and circumstances changed. This year they invited a granny along, this granny. Four school teachers, four little girls ages 6 to 11, and one granny.

As I write, the week is just beginning. The others are off to the pool by midmorning and I sit on the patio of our unit, across from a rock-lined channel that circulates the water through the park, another three miles to the town and a fishing lake and where else I do not know.

I have yet to get into the water, but I'm told it is cold, but not as cold as the Roaring Springs pool. I went for a morning walk with the girls to see the pool for the first time. I stuck my toe in the water, and I am thinking maybe I can do this.

I was sad when the Roaring Springs pool was no longer available to the general public because in dry West Texas it was an oasis about 30 miles from where I grew up south of Dougherty. But it is still, without a doubt, the coldest water south of Alaska!

I am still transitioning into retirement, which means I have a long way to go before I get to the point of not having urgent business that has to be done before I can play.

Growing up as a farm kid, play and work all ran together, but summers were more about work as we grew old enough to man a hoe handle. There was neither money nor time for that strange activity called vacation. Then I grew up and married a farmer, so I still don't know much about vacation.

But I'm going to learn.

Modern life with its electric lights brought us great benefits, but it also brought some negatives along. Now, we can work 24 hours a day. Productivity is the key to success. Activity is the key to vacation. So, what is missing?

Where is the time to think, to dream and as Scripture says, "to be still and know that I am God," the great I Am who gave life that we might be companions to each other and to the Creator.

Parks such as Balmorhea give relatively inexpensive opportunity to turn aside and take time to rest in body, mind and spirit.

The narrative continues here.

Photos by Cliff Hammond

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