Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hoop Season's Here!

Time to play some basketball?

  The basketball season is rapidly approaching. Matter-of-fact, the NBA season will officially tip-off next week, collegiate play is set to resume shortly after, with high school hoopers not-too-far behind.

  In many corners of the world, however, the basketball season has already begun. And for the first time since I was in grade school, my sneakers remain in my closet (or my car's trunk, to be more accurate). And will remain there for the foreseeable future.

  Surprisingly enough, I'm completely okay with that. It might just be, that my lifelong (until this point) obsession with playing basketball has finally run its course.

Autumn in Oregon.
  Last year at this time, and all the seasons prior, I was already several weeks into my team's season. I had participated in training camp, spent hours in the gym working on my game, trained all summer to be in the best shape I could be, and was looking forward to heading into practice each and every day.

  Nowadays, even though I still enjoy getting a good workout in, it's a vastly different scene.

An American Halloween.
  I haven't touched a ball with any intent on playing since I left France last spring. And to be honest, I have no desire to pick up a ball and play. I've been asked if I want to play in adult leagues, or go play pickup at local gyms. But as of right now, I don't.

  I guess when you're done, you're done. At least that's what it feels like.

  I'd had enough playing. I could feel that my body and my mind had had enough when my season concluded last spring. I knew my career as a basketball player had run its course, and I was ready for the next phase of my life.

  I'm perfectly happy to be enjoying the beautiful Northwest autumn. It's been years since I've had the chance to see the maple trees change, and the leaves drop; the crisp, clear air, and the bright blue sky of autumn. I had forgotten how pretty it can be.

  Halloween's approaching, with Thanksgiving not too far behind: two days that aren't quite the same when you spend them outside the States.

  For the first time since graduating college, I'm getting to enjoy, and reap a few benefits of being a Colorado Alum. Something I hope to take more advantage of as the year continues.

  Even with all the things I am enjoying, it will be strange not to be part of a team this season. I'm sure there will be a time when I miss getting out on the court and playing and competing. And eventually I'll want to get on the court and play a little pickup, but that time isn't now.

  I'm thoroughly enjoying my basketball retirement. And while it's been an adjustment, and continues to be, life in the 'real world' isn't all too bad.
More fall sights from the Northwest.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Foods We Eat Every Day

  Countless countries around the world have taken a much more proactive approach to regulating their food system, in comparison to how things work in the US.

  They've taken a more 'natural' approach, if you will. I say natural, in quotations, because here in the US, natural really doesn't mean much when it comes to food. It sounds like it should mean something: that a product is close to its natural state, unprocessed, no chemicals. But it doesn't.

  A result, of this more proactive approach to food systems, is that these countries around the globe have taken the initiative to ban food items they deem as harmful products. Something we also do in the US, but our 'banning bodies' must not agree with their counterparts.

  In many cases, those same products are not banned in the US. In fact, they're products we continue to consume on a regular, and far-too-frequent basis.

  I've made two graphics that detail the ten items in the US Food Supply that have not been banned from our shelves, even though they have been deemed harmful by much of the rest of the world.

  For me, in the previous ten years, I've spent the majority of my time overseas in Europe. During that time period, I grew accustomed to those stricter, more hands-on food laws. And I grew to appreciate them. A safer food supply was fine by me.

  In the summers, when I would return home to the US, it would take some adjusting, but not much. Summertime is relatively easy. Fresh fruits and veggies, barbecues; you can't go wrong there.

  Now that I'm living in the US full time again, and the summer crops have been picked clean, I'm having to relearn a few things. What food items I need to work to avoid, for example. What I have grown-used to not needing to think about, I am now having to put to the forefront of my mind.

  Hopefully these graphics help me, and you, decipher the foods we should be steering clear of. And hopefully, with stricter regulation, are things we won't have to concern ourselves with much longer.

  What do you think, would you like tighter food regulations? Are you happy with our food system? Who is responsible for putting safe, healthy food on our shelves?

  For more detailed information on the banned items and their effects, see the links below.

10 Banned Foods Americans Eat Every Day
11 Banned Ingredients We Continue to Eat

M&M Analysis: Altered Recipes For European Consumers
Banned Ingredients Remain in US

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Perfect Timing: Boulder Floods

Boulder Creek Flood. The 500-year mark is mid-way up.

***Note*** Flood relief effort information listed below!

  I recently ventured out to Colorado for my annual visit to friends, former college teammates and coaches, and one of my favorite cities, Boulder.

  And as luck would have it, my visit perfectly coincided with the One Hundred Year Flood (or 500 Year Flood, or 1000 Year Event, depending on who you talk to).

  Needless to say, plans were changed. Everything that had been penciled in for my four-day visit was quickly thrown out the window.

The view from Folsom Field on Saturday afternoon.
A Fall Visit
  In previous years, I usually visit Colorado mid-summer. But since I wouldn't be headed overseas this fall, I delayed my visit to the Rockies so I could see the Buffs (and Ralphie) in person on the gridiron. So I had yet to see my 'Colorado people', nor get my thin air fix this year.

  College football has always been my favorite sporting event to watch in person, and nothing beats a fall afternoon at Folsom Field watching the Buffs play. Game day Saturdays in Boulder were always a favorite of mine when I was a student at CU, and hopefully will become a more common occurrence for me as an alum.

Weather was clearer south of Denver.
  I was slated to touchdown in Denver Thursday night, the 12th.

And Then Came The Rain
  The rain started early in the week, and by Wednesday, it had become a continuous downpour. Thursday I awoke to news of flooding hitting the Boulder area.

  I spent the morning and afternoon trying to decide if I still was going to make the trip. Rains had hit Boulder hard, and flooding was already widespread, with a lot more rain on the way. The University of Colorado campus was already to be closed on Thursday and Friday.
Saturday afternoon at Folsom.

  I doubted that people dealing with flooding would be up for visitors, nor was I too confident there would be a football game to go to on Saturday. Not to mention heading into an already-declared disaster area was a major cause for concern.

  I weighed the pros and cons, and decided to make the trip anyways. It would be worth it to see some friends I hadn't seen in a while, disaster area or not.

Boulder Creek Path.
One Extreme to Another
  So I spent more time in Denver than I typically do. Boulder and Denver are only a mere 30 miles apart from each other. But in this case, those 30 miles represented a vast discrepancy in rain totals (19-20 inches for Boulder, versus 4-6 inches in Denver over a three day span).

  Those not familiar with Colorado, 20 inches of rain is the equivalent of two years worth of rain for the Boulder area. All coming in three days. And it has seemed that Colorado has been in a perpetual drought in recent memory, with wild fires being a constant summertime concern.

  20 inches of rain; dry, arid ground with limited vegetation. No wonder there was flooding.

  So I steered clear of Boulder until Saturday afternoon.

Boulder Creek, and the Boulder Creek Path become one.
  The skies lightened, rain had stopped, and there was even a little blue sky behind the Flatirons.

  The football game between Colorado and Fresno State had been cancelled. But there was to be an event at Folsom Field hosting and feeding displaced families by the athletic department and its student athletes. A great way to turn a negative into a positive. A friend and I stopped by to see if we could be of any help, but there were already many helping hands.

What Boulder Creek usually looks like. With Flood Marker.
Boulder Creek
  We then visited the flooded area below CU's campus, Boulder Creek. Boulder Creek has a long history of flooding. I remember spring time always being the most-susceptible because of the fast snow melt turning into runoff from the mountains looming over campus. Waters rise quickly. 

  The bike path that runs alongside the creek always seemed to be a flood danger. 

  I had never seen the waters so high, and so fast (more pictures here). And this was after the water had receded quite a bit. But the effect was evident. Mud and debris were scattered throughout the usually clean streets.

Short video at Boulder Creek.

  Coincidentally we came upon a giant teal marker (made from recycled glass, of course) that stands near the creek at Arapahoe and Broadway -- the flood level marker -- marking the 100 year flood level (5 feet), the 500 year flood level (7.5 feet), and the Big Thompson flood level (10 feet). 

Flooding below Broadway.
  The flood waters surpassed the 500 year level Thursday night/Friday morning.

The Damage and the Clean Up
  The rain hit again Sunday, and people in Boulder, Longmont, Aurora, and Lyons were again struggling with flooding. At best, homeowners had a little water in their basements or crawl spaces. At worst, they had to evacuate and didn't know the extent of their home's damage.

Mean looking skies Sunday afternoon.
There have been 10 deaths reported, and 200 people remain unaccounted for (as of Thursday, September 19th). Property losses for residential property alone are estimated at $900 million. And now there is concern of oil spills and fracking fluid contamination.

  The cleanup will be a long, expensive effort.

  There are several relief organizations aiding the effort -- listed below -- if you are interested in volunteering, or donating supplies or funds.

By Monday, there were blue skies.
  The good news is this: the Colorado skies are blue once again, and the ground is drying out. Relief is coming, and Coloradans will bounce back, just like they've always done.

  Until then, I look forward to my next visit to the Rocky Mountain Region. Here's hoping I'm able to see Ralphie and the Buffs in action!

United Way Foothills Flood Relief Fund -- Allows you to donate or volunteer in Boulder and Broomfield Counties. 100% of funds raised through their effort will be used toward health and human services to those affected by the recent flooding in the area.

CU Flood Fund -- For those who want to give directly to people affected related to the University of Colorado.

Boulder Flood Relief Website -- Donate supplies, volunteer if you are in the area.

Another video at Boulder Creek.

Boulder Creek is to the right of the picture, below campus.
Flood damage in Boulder. The Flatirons in the distance.
Below Broadway.
Roped off area.
Flood waters extend out into the park.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Event Recap: Walk to End Alzheimer's

With Mom and Nana after the walk.

  The Walk to End Alzheimer's was a huge success for Papa's Team!

  After fundraising for the majority of the summer, I can happily say that my team was able to contribute $700, thanks to many of you, to the Alzheimer's Association at September 8th's walk.

  We had 20 total donors, and seven walkers participate in memory of Papa in the walk on Sunday at Portland International Raceway.

Mom, Amy, Greg, & Mari -- part of Papa's Team!
  The walk itself was a fantastic event. Sunday, September 8th, was a beautiful, sunny day -- maybe a little warm for a midday walk on a black racetrack -- but we couldn't have asked for a better day!

  The walk took place at Portland International Raceway, a road race course in North Portland.

  Behind the bagpipes of Timber's Army members (the fan club for the MLS Portland Timbers walking in support of longtime Timber, Jimmy Conway) and several Timbers' players, the 2.5 mile walk got underway.

The Promise Garden -- a pretty cool visual.
  We walked and talked throughout the 2.5 mile loop; enjoyed each other's company and were happy to be contributing to a wonderful cause.

  Participation numbers were estimated at 4,500 walkers, but the racetrack was full (I'm still waiting on final participation numbers and total money raised (and our official team picture) from the Portland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association).

  A neat feature of this year's walk was the Promise Garden. Depending on your relationship with Alzheimer's, each walker was given a corresponding color flower-pinwheel. This really allowed participants to visually see the impact Alzheimer's has on us as a society.

  A purple flower represented a loved one who has been lost to Alzheimer's. While an orange flower represented someone who doesn't have a direct tie to Alzheimer's, but is supporting the effort nonetheless. There were also yellow flowers for Alzheimer's sufferers still living, and blue flowers for care givers.

Purple promise flower for Papa.
  As we neared the finish line, walkers were allowed to 'plant' their promise flowers into the grass infield at PIR. It was a pretty powerful image.

  All in all, it was a pretty great afternoon!

  A huge thanks to those who were willing to donate! Your money is going to an excellent charity, and towards a cause that is in need of more funding across the board. And a extra-special thanks to the group of Twitter ladies who were nice enough to contribute! It means a lot when people support causes you find important.
The button I had made for Papa's Team participants.

  I hope to make Papa's Team an annual Walk to End Alzheimer's participant, as I think this is a very important cause. And I would love to honor Papa on a yearly basis. I know you're looking forward to my pestering when next summer rolls around, and I re-start Papa's Team fundraising!

  Next year, I hope to equal money raised, maybe even top it, and would love to see more participation in walk day festivities.

  Thanks again for the support. I am hugely appreciative!

Papa's Team representing on Walk day!
With Mari!
Me & Mom.
Me & Amy!

Gathering for the start at PIR.
Rounding the final curve.
Thank you!
Planting of the Promise Garden.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Great Amateurism Debate

Colorado days.

  I'm always game for a good debate. All the better if it's sports related -- I'll be that much better-equipped.

  One night last week, I flipped on ESPN and tuned into Keith Olbermann's new talk show. It's been a while since we've seen Olbermann strictly talking sports, so I wanted to check out his new digs.

  Tony Kornheiser, from PTI fame, was a guest on this particular night talking amateurism and college athletics.

  Many of us know collegiate sports have become a booming business. A lot of people make are making a lot of money. But the valued commodity, the athlete, doesn't see a dime of that money.

The Amateurism Debate
  At the forefront of the Kornheiser/Olbermann conversation was Johnny Manziel (and the recent autograph-gate), and whether or not college athletes should be paid.

  Both Olbermann and Kornheiser were arguing that enough was enough. That it was time for college athletes to be paid. The NCAA and major college sports are such a money-maker, for everyone but the athletes. That it's time to share a little of the enormous pie with those athletes.

  From coaches earning multi-million dollar contracts, to university licensing deals, to jersey sales and video games, to rich television agreements (CBS and Turner Sport's March Madness contract with the NCAA is worth $770 million a year) -- everyone seems to be making money off of college sports and more importantly, the athletes.

Kornheiser and Olbermann.
  Everyone that is, except the athlete.

  Kornheiser and Olbermann argued that. And then they took it a little further.

  They made the point that, at that moment, they both were being paid to talk about Manziel and other top collegiate athletes. TV personalities are paid to talk about college athletes and analyze college sports. Yet that same athlete, can't sell his own autograph for some cash (before you jump down my back for autograph-gate, I know nothing in regard to Manziel was proven) without jeopardizing his status as an amateur (and thus, his college eligibility).

  The pros and cons of paying athletes have been argued for years. The old argument was always: 'they are being paid, in the form of a (free) college education.'

  Speaking from experience, that is a definite bonus, but it's hardly free. Not having a college loan to repay is an amazing benefit. However being a full-time student while competing at the highest level of collegiate sports, is a balancing act, and a full-time job in and of itself.

  It most definitely is not a free education. So I don't buy the 'they're already being paid argument'.

Manziel's signature has been a source of controversy.
Paying Your Dues
  But I am against outwardly paying collegiate athletes, for several reasons.

  I hear and understand the arguments for paying them. They're being exploited for big time money; they should see a little of that money -- it's only fair.

  And I do agree. But flat out paying them isn't  the solution.

  To those who argue they should be paid, how do we decide who gets paid what? Does every athlete get paid? Equally?

  It's a complicated mess, but that isn't a good enough excuse to keep things as they are.

  Another argument Kornheiser and Olbermann were making, 'because everyone else is making money' isn't a good one either.

  People make money off of high school athletes these days too. Should we pay them as well? In all honesty, if we open that can of worms, where would it stop? There is already a sense of entitlement, we don't need to make that beast even more dangerous.

  I'm of the belief that being an unpaid college athlete is part of the process. Maybe that's somewhat of a fairy tale viewpoint to have. But that's what I believe. There's something about being an amateur, paying your dues, and earning the title of professional athlete. That title shouldn't be a given.

  Paying collegiate athletes would essentially make them professionals. Or at the very least, semi-professional. And I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in seeing college sports turn into a semi-pro venture.

Jersey sales could be one source of post-eligibility compensation.
  Many, however, already look at college athletics as a minor league farm system for pro leagues. That is due, in large part, to the system we have allowed to develop.

  Money is king. And the NCAA has turned into an enormous business. The athletes want to prepare for their professional careers as best, and as quickly as they can; reap the riches while the opportunity is there.

  I don't blame them. And I don't think you do either. Professional sports careers are short.

Stakes is High
  Obviously the stakes are highest for football players and male basketball players. Those are the highest-profile, biggest money making sports in the college ranks.

  It's their jerseys being sold. Their likeness on display in video games. And their faces closing out CBS's infamous 'One Shining Moment' montage. They're being exploited to a greater extent than any other athlete -- male or female.

  But directly cutting them a check still isn't the solution.

  Enough will never be enough. Once we head down that road, there would be no coming back.

  The current system we have in place doesn't work either. So what's the solution?

Fair Compensation
  What about payment after eligibility is exhausted? Or extending stipends? Or graduate school offerings?

NCAA Tournament vs. UNC.
  Take jersey sales for example. The university could easily set aside earnings for individual athletes based on accumulated jersey sales. Put it into an account, and the athlete will have a nice little start when his/her eligibility expires.

  Or with video game licensing: each athlete represented should receive 'X' amount of dollars.

  Obviously, any kind of payment would change the rules of the game. And the difficulty becomes deciphering what is fair.

  Changes lead to new challenges to overcome -- which undoubtedly, there would be many. But these changes would benefit everyone involved in college athletics, namely the athlete. The integrity of the game and universities would remain intact as well.

  There are countless ways to fairly compensate the athletes without simply writing them a check. What might happen though, is those coaches, those analysts, those advertisers, those athletic directors, might have to take a smaller piece of the pie.

  But that's probably the way it should be anyway.

  It's an interesting conversation. The current state of affairs where money rules all, where everything is deemed as cheating, and where the game and education is sacrificed, isn't a beneficial, or fair, system.

  There is a fair solution. What do you think it is?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Football Season! Sans the Anxiety

Always fun to see Ralphie up close and personal.

  For the first time in a long time, the dawn of football season isn't bringing up bittersweet, anxious feelings in my gut.

  Don't get me wrong, I love football season just as much as the next person. In fact, it's my favorite season to participate in as a fan.

  So what's to be anxious about? Dating back to my freshman year in college ('99 for those of you keeping track), football season meant it was time to hit the road.

  First as a teenager from Lake Oswego, heading to Colorado to start college. Then as a professional basketball player heading to Europe to begin every season anew. From my freshman year onward, as the football season got closer and closer to kicking off, the knot in my stomach grew larger by the day.

Here comes Ralphie...!
  Big changes and difficult goodbyes were looming on the horizon.

  On one hand, I grew accustomed to the drastic changes and the adjustment period I would encounter. So I was able to get comfortable fairly quickly. But on the other hand, it began to wear on me after a while. I guess you can say novelty eventually wore off.

Knowing vs. Doing
  Yet I always knew it was time to go. I admit, after a summer of being home, working out for 3-4 months, and doing not-much-of-anything else, it was time to go. Even so, I never liked to see the sunsets coming on earlier and earlier in the evening.

  Knowing you needed to do something, didn't make doing it any easier. I knew I needed to be overseas. It was my job after all. But I'd still always want to squeak out a few more days stateside. Put off the uncomfortable adjustment period, the long day of travel, and the tough goodbyes.

Not going back overseas will be a change.
  There were years when I was lucky enough to see a college football Saturday or two before I head out to cross the pond. And I always was entirely too excited if I got to see just one game on USA-time -- on TV. And if it was in person? I was ecstatic.

This Football Season
  As August quickly comes to a close, and football season knocks on the door, I'm finding that knot in my stomach isn't there.

  There still are bittersweet feelings, just of a different kind this time around. The fact that I don't get to hop on a plane and change lives is a big change for me. Knowing I won't be on a basketball team for the first time since I was eight: enormous change.

CU vs. Georgia in 2010.
  So there are still changes. But none of the anxiety and knot-inducing variety.

  There are things I enjoyed about being able to up and move overseas. Obviously -- if I continued to do it year after year. Things were always fresh and new. They were exciting. There was always something on the horizon to look forward to.

  But this time around, I look forward to enjoying college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays on the couch, or in the stands, in the good ol' US of A.