Remembering the greatest

A few months back, my daughter, Monica, and I were lunching with friends when the inimitable Joe Epstein interrupted the grey-beards’ football tales, turned to my daughter, and asked, “Do you have the disease?” Monica does a lot of theater work, which usually renders her immune to conversational eccentricity. But this one floored her. “The disease?” Yeah,” Joe replied. “Sports.”  To which the only honest reply was, “Yes. I’ve got it.”

She got it from her father. I’ve had it since 1957, which is as far as my sports memory takes me. By the end of 1958, though, I was completely hooked, the bait having been merely the greatest pro football game ever, the 1958 sudden-death NFL championship in which John Unitas, Raymond Berry, and the Baltimore Colts took down the New York Giants of Frank Gifford and Sam Huff.

In fifty-plus years of the disease, I’ve watched my share of glorious thrillers, in person and on the tube. Thanks to my sainted grandfather Weigel, I was at the fourth and final game of the 1966 World Series and saw the Orioles’ Paul Blair, in full flight, leap majestically at the center field fence to rob the Dodgers’ Jim Lefebvre of a game-tying home run. I remember Carlton Fisk’s body-language, willing fair the shot he had hit into the dead of the Fenway night, the ball ricocheting off the foul pole to send Red Sox Nation into temporary ecstasy in 1975. I remember Team USA beating the wicked Soviets in the 1980 Olympic ice hockey semi-final, and I remember Duke’s Christian Laettner hitting an impossible buzzer-beater to finish Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA east regional.

And I remember the disasters. In 1969, for example, I hit the trifecta of Big Apple-induced catastrophes: first, the “irresistible” Colts (as Sports Illustrated described them) lost Super Bowl III to the Jets (January); then the top-seeded Baltimore Bullets were skunked by the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs (March); after which the heavily-favored Orioles lost the World Series to the Mets (October); and there was no joy in Bal’mer. I remember staring, stunned, as Bill Buckner’s imitation of a croquet wicket cost the Red Sox the ‘86 Series. I can still see, in the slow-motion of my memory, a Gregg Olsen wild pitch that cost the Orioles a desperately needed game against the Blue Jays in 1989, thus effectively ending a miraculous season in which youthful enthusiasm seemed poised to beat the big bucks. (My older daughter’s tear stains are still visible in the scorebook.) And I remember the aforementioned Monica, in deep distress, calling me after Mike Mussina abandoned Baltimore for the dread Yankees: “Dad, Mike’s gone over to the Dark Side!”

Thus my mental hard disk runneth over. Still, sifting through the detritus of the disease, one moment stands out above all the rest. It was thirty-five years ago: June 9, 1973, the Belmont Stakes. There hadn’t been a Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century; but hopes rode high, resting as they did on the giant chestnut shoulders of Secretariat, who had taken the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in record times. For the first six furlongs, Secretariat battled it out with old rival Sham. But then something happened that no one had ever seen before—or since.

On the back stretch, Secretariat shifted into a hitherto-unknown higher gear and pulled away from the field as if on equine afterburners. As the others dropped back, Secretariat went faster and faster still, seemingly inexhaustible, an unprecedented combination of  majesty, power, and grace. The glow of those two minutes and twenty-four seconds, still the fastest mile-and-a-half ever, remains undimmed today.

Last summer, I visited a friend who had bred one of his horses, an Appaloosa, to a son of Secretariat. The resulting filly was rather small, where her grand-sire had been huge. But when you looked into her eyes, and marked how she held her head, there was an unmistakable sense of self. Don’t tell me that filly didn’t know she was the grand-daughter of the greatest. Whispering it in her ear was for me, not for her.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.