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My dreams of glory dashed

When I decided to partake in Wesley Chapel football coach John Castelamare's Ironman competition, I had two overarching goals. I was fabulously unsuccessful at both in the first two seconds.

Castelamare, in a neat gesture of positive interaction with the media, challenged local reporters to participate in the decathlon-like preseason competition he puts his team through. Former Times Pasco County sports writer Roger Mills regularly made a good account of himself (unlike most others, such as the Tampa Tribune writer who maxed out with a 100-pound bench press), so I figured I'd do my part and join compatriot Steve Lee at Wesley Chapel at 8 a.m. last Monday.

The Ironman consists of eight events: vertical leap, over-under (hop over a teammate and crawl back through his legs as many times as possible in 30 seconds), shuttle run, 40-yard dash, 10-yard dash (the time is determined in the first quarter of the 40-yard dash), 800-meter run, leg press and bench press.

I feared the 800, as does everyone. In perfect conditions, much less a steamy Florida day, a full-bore 800 is the ideal way for a moderately out of shape 30-year-old to have a near-death experience. So I trained for it.

My "training" consisted of hopping the fence at the Gaither High track (serendipitously getting in some bonus practice for the over-under) at dusk on two occasions the week before the Ironman and, after lots of stretching and jogging, running a hard 800. First try, 3:16; second, 3:01. I was ready _ ready to not embarrass myself, which was the second of my overarching goals. The first was to not injure myself.

The day before the Ironman, I played in a rec-league soccer match. At one point, I wrenched something in my back, but I stretched it before going to bed, confident it was nothing.

My alarm went off at 7 a.m. In the first second I was awake, I reached over and turned it off. In the next second, I tried to get up and fell straight to the floor.

Rigor mortis had consumed my back while I slept. A moderate muscle pull had become partial paralysis. It was injury and embarrassment _ before the competition started!

Ouch.

After negotiating a shower with the limberness of Frankenstein, I headed to Wesley Chapel to cheer on Steve, my dream of becoming the Bruce Jenner of sports writers shattered.

Steve plays goalie for a recreation hockey team. A hockey nut from Boston, Steve has been getting in the way of slap shots since Patrick Roy was a toddler _ and he has the welts on his arm to prove it. While that might not seem like the best preparation for the Ironman, it proved better than trespassing on the Gaither track and a "violent" soccer match.

(Note: If a sports writer ever wants to do the impossible _ get a football coach to think less of him or her _ all they have to do is reveal they were injured playing soccer. I feared telling Castelamare this more than running the 800.)

Before the Ironman, the scope of what Castelamare is undertaking was evident. First, he taught the team, which has no seniors, how they would line up to stretch, how they would clap and chant between stretching exercises, and exactly how to do each stretching exercise. This was football 101 _ how to take a knee around the coach. The no-huddle offense may have to wait until the next millennium.

Steve went out and did the Times proud, except when he dropped out of the 800 with about 620 meters to go. By his second event, the crawl-on-the-dirt-and-grass over-under, Steve was a filthy mess. In the 800, the others in his group all finished even, though two coughed up breakfast down the backstretch of the second lap.

Steve bounced back to kick butt on the bench (225 pounds) and leg press (500) and wound up with 68 points, finishing in the middle of the pack of 56 participants. Junior Matt Harden was the winner with 117 points.

As for me, I cheered Steve on all the way _ except when it got a little hot outside and I went into the air-conditioned gym to watch the Wesley Chapel volleyball team's first practice.

But I'll get 'em next year.

And good luck, Wesley Chapel. If you think the Ironman was hard, wait until you play Pasco.

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