Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Two sides of my story

I've had an exhausting and renewing week, and if those two seem at odds, then in a way, so were the two activities. I think both show the constant teeter-tottering between what I call my two lives.

It had been such a long day. I went to KISS the day before at the Cheyenne Frontier Days and got four hours of sleep before I got up to run 13 miles as part of my training for the Pikes Peak Ascent. Now I was falling asleep in a tent while my 5-year-old tried to keep me awake.

Jayden and I headed up for his first-ever, long-promised camping trip that Saturday. He passed last year’s test, in the backyard, despite clouds of mosquitoes and battles with a couple piles of dog poop in the backyard.

I took him up Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park before the camping trip. I think it's the perfect hike for kids Jayden's age. The waterfall is pretty awesome and yet the hike is only two miles.

The only problem is I’m not exactly alone in that thinking. In fact, from the looks of things, about 5 million others agree, or at least they did that Saturday in late July. The park was so full of people that not only were the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge parking lots closed, the huge Park ‘N’ Ride that gives you shuttle bus access to both points was full as well. Wow.

He scampered up the trail like one of the many ground squirrels we saw, stopping only to stare, fascinated, into one of the streams along the trail or beg me to feed the squirrels. It didn't help that many other, shall we say, less qualified outdoorsy folks were giving the creatures peanuts by hand. It just doesn't seem to be enough for these people to see beautiful sights. Nah, they've just gotta fuck with nature. I tried not to let it piss me off. Getting on a high horse was not what this day was about, since, as a journalist, it's about that a lot.

I can see why some thought the place was there for their personal kicks and figured it was more like a Disneyland than a national park since it was just as crowded, even when most people won't hike a quarter-mile beyond the trailhead. I'll never complain too much about crowds, though, as this usually means there will be more people to fight for the wilderness if it gets threatened by "progress."

After some much-needed pizza and a long drive - or it seemed pretty long after the day - we made it up to the campsite, set up the tent and had a snack before bed.

It took him a while to settle down. It took me considerably less time. But as the sun went down, a full moon went up, bathing the landscape in a silver light that helped calm his nerves about sleeping in the dark.

I woke up with a start around 11 p.m., turned my head and saw Jayden snoring and clutching his Cars flashlight.

I knew I would not sleep that soundly the rest of the night. This may surprise people, but I've never really slept well in a tent. But I snuggled in my pillow with a smile on my face.

Thursday my alarm buzzed at 4 a.m. This, I thought, was actually early.

I usually expect to get up much earlier for a peak, and we were doing two. But this day was going to be different than any other day in the mountains. I was planning to run them.

Before you think I'm completely nuts, let's talk. The mountains were Grays and Torreys. These are two 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado and they are easily some of the most-visited peaks in the state. In fact there are very few that get more footfalls per year. The reasons for that are simple. These are 14ers, and the 14ers in Colorado are kind of a craze. More than a half million visit the summit of one of the 54 every year. I'll admit that I'm one of them: I finished them a few years ago, something more and more want to do. The other reason is even if most don't want to climb them all, they are curious what all the fuss is about and want to try one or two. And Grays and Torreys is a good place to start. It's sort of like blackjack face up. There's an easy trail all the way to the top, they're flooded with people, and they're close to Denver, with a good road that leads to the 11,000-foot start.

Still, they ARE 14,000 feet, and though I knew the terrain wouldn't really be an issue, running at that altitude worried me. I've been to 14,000 feet many times, and it's always a struggle. The air is thin, and I gasp even when I'm walking above 13,000, even when I've been up there many times. And I hadn't been up there at ALL this year. The mountains were only a part of my life now, even during the summer climbing season (the few months when they weren't full of snow), and that's a little sad to me.

Not today. I picked up a couple training partners - one who was renowned for his mountain running and climbing - and we were off.

I expected to get blown away, and my expectations were fulfilled almost right away as I took off at a shuffle. I knew I would not be able to run fast, but I was determined to keep a shuffle going for as long as I could. I was doing this, after all, to train for my next big race, the Pikes Peak Ascent, and I was hoping to run on that race as long as possible.

Right away, I felt like I was revving the red line. My heart rate hovered around 140, which isn't bad at all, but my lungs seemed to be stuffed with cotton. No matter how hard I breathed, it didn't seem like I was getting enough oxygen into my body. I did my best to keep moving, as that's always the key when you're climbing any mountain, running or not. I passed many hikers along the way, gasping for air, many of them expressing awe at what I was doing. I usually answered by telling them they may pass me near the top. I wasn't expressing false modesty. I was serious. At times I felt like I could combust at any second. My partners were already far ahead of me.

But when I watched them, I saw them speed hiking more than running. It took some pressure off me. When the trails got impossibly steep, I backed off, allowing myself to at least breathe somewhat controlled (if not still fast), and at one point I told myself to make it to a sign and then I would re-evaluate how I felt there.

When I did that, hiking fast enough to pass others starting at around 13,000 feet, my body seemed to relax, and I found a groove. I popped a few energy chews in my mouth, and that seemed to help, too. I flew by the sign and saw some girls sitting in a circle talking.

Could that mean???

Yep, all of a sudden I found myself on the summit of Grays. My time was 1:35 to the top. I didn't think that was too bad after all. Sure, my partners were gone, but they're elite runners. I spotted them heading over to Torreys just a few hundred feet away.

I waited for them at the saddle between the two peaks, figuring them to want to move on when they came down, but they surprised me when they came back down, encouraging me to head up. I decided to tag Torreys and we headed up and back down to the saddle.

Then we ran all the way down in under an hour. This really felt good, making me think that the only reason I struggled was the altitude and not the uphill climbing or the mileage. I guess that means my training was going well.

We got back to the car in about three hours and 15 minutes after we started. That was more than 9 miles and 3,700 feet of elevation gain. The last time I did these two peaks, I was leading a bunch of rookies, and it took more than seven hours. And I was pleased with that. Today I felt pretty proud, even if I did get blown away too.

These two trips, both in a week's time, are who I am. I'm an endurance athlete and a father and husband. Sometimes the teeter-totter stays right in the middle. I have to appreciate the steadiness when I can.

Poker on TV

I'm curious to see what the ratings will be for the WSOP this year on ESPN.
I don't honestly know how much I'll contribute to them either.
Unlike most who were bitten and had their blood sucked by the poker tick - and really, isn't a tick a much better analogy, even if you enjoy the game as much as I had - I didn't get hooked by watching poker on TV. I played in a friend's home game, really not knowing what I was doing (I loved chasing inside straights), and eventually looked so forward to those Thursday nights that I sated my poker urge by watching it on TV and, yes, playing online. I even blogged about it. A little.
Anyway, the tick is no longer there (but the head still is, those tiny bastards), but I still enjoy poker on TV. I love High Stakes Poker and even the cash games on Poker After Dark.
The thing is, I've still got 13 episodes of PAD on my DVR. From June. I'm doing my best to watch them, but the kids (which I've already whined too much about), the outdoors (damn summertime) and Kate's surgery have all conspired to leave me about as much free time as James Bond (and I don't even get to go to fancy parties to blow off some steam).
So TV is almost like a chore, another thing to do, because those episodes are just sitting there in my DVR.
I don't want the WSOP news on ESPN to be seen as a chore, as I look forward to that every summer, but this may be the first season I watch sporadically. The other problem, of course, is tournament poker can be pretty boring to watch. Here's a pair of 6s, and here's AK, let's shove 30 BBs in and flip to see what happens, oh look an Ace on the river, how amazing.
Plus we already know who won most of the events. And most of the Main Event coverage is usually cutesy segments following around the guy from Everybody Loves Raymond and the other guy from Everybody Loves Raymond.
I dunno. Has the WSOP coverage lost its thrill for you? I guess we'll see for me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The hottest band in the world? Kinda. Probably.

Over the years, when I tell people what music I listen to, especially as I've gotten older, I've always felt the slightest need to apologize.
Um, yes, THAT Motley Crue, I say, even when their eyes say, "Um...still?"
I hardly ever do apologize, of course. I'm a metal head and proud of it, even years later, when folks like my own Mom think I should have outgrown it by now.
This, of course, brings me to Friday night's KISS show in Cheyenne, Wyo.
KISS are kind of a goofy band. They went without that black and white makeup for a few years, mostly in the hair metal era, when everyone already looked so ridiculous that the costumes seemed tame by comparison. They brought it back at the right time, in 2000 (I believe), when most of the bands were still whiny brats and forgot how to rock and roll. 
KISS has not forgotten, and they sounded like it Friday.
Though most of the people there probably didn't even know KISS had a new album out, the band led off with its greatest tune in decades, "Modern Day Delilah." If you were any kind of a KISS fan at all - and don't lie, you were too - you really should download this song. The album is good, maybe even just decent, but the song is great. 
Still, they played the song as they were being lifted on risers, with enough dry ice to fog a city, after the announcement that the "hottest band in the world" was about to hit the stage.
If there's any band that's survived as long as it has and yet draws the need to apologize for loving them, it's KISS. The band just smells of cheese, and, let's be honest, not just cheese, but Cheez.
Yes, there are the costumes and makeup, and that's almost enough. But there's also the winking lyrics - "Danger Us" off the latest album is just one of many fun examples - and more endorsements than Krusty the Klown and all the TV specials (and I'm not even talking about KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park). Do I even need to mention the Disco song? 
And there's the pyro and lights and dry ice and fireworks.
OK, but here's where KISS starts to justify the Cheez. Because it's BECAUSE of the Cheez, almost as much as their insanely catching songs and great musicianship, that makes KISS a one-of-a-kind, terrific band.
Yeah, I expected great music, and I got that. (Let's be honest for a second here. KISS can play. No, their songs are not "House of the Holy," but they are also more fun to listen to, and name me another band that features four great players and singers at the same time). Yeah, I expected a long show, and I got that, too. But I DEMANDED the pyro, and literally, my expectations were blown away. The show ended with fireworks that lasted a good five minutes. It sort of reminded me of the cartoon by the Oatmeal that talked about a pig having an orgasm for more than 20 minutes. I kept thinking as the explosions went off over the sky, "Wow, how long can this really go on?" (Something the pig probably thinks too).
Cheyenne's Frontier Days was packed that night, sold out, with thousands and thousands of fans shaking the place, including thousands from Colorado who probably would not have made it up there otherwise. It's no secret. Yes, KISS is cheesy, but they sounded great, played for almost three hours and gave us exactly what we wanted.
All of it without any apologies.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I remember being single and free in Salina, Kan., where I worked for five years before spending the last 11 in Colorado.
I also remember an older co-worker living vicariously through me, usually in conversations we'd have that Saturday morning about what I was going to do that night.
"Eh, I dunno. Maybe go drinking, maybe go to a movie, maybe hang out, maybe go for a bike ride," I'd say while his eyes glazed over. "What are you doing?"
I didn't really understand how cruel I was being. Hey, I was naive. Elementary school kids probably don't really know how awful they're being when they make fun of another child's hair. I didn't get why he wanted to know so much about my free, easy and uncomplicated life. I know now that's precisely why. His life, one with two small children, was quite the opposite.
I thought about that as I raced around Friday to care for my three small children while Kate sat in a recliner. I am a parent, and so Friday should have been a joyous occasion for me, according to things like "The Family Circus." It would be the first time in nearly a week I'd get to see my kids and Kate.
I was happy to see them at first. Kate had hernia surgery - that's what carrying twins will to do you, even three years after they were born - and it was nice to see her out of the hospital, even if recovery will take six weeks. The kids stayed with her parents in Denver while I worked in Greeley and she spent a couple days at her sister's.
But that six weeks of recovery was the problem, for now my mother (who came down to stay with us thank God) and I were stuck with unpacking and dealing with kids who were unloading and far from understanding about the fact that Mom can't do, well, hardly anything with them.
I honestly thought they would get it, that Mommy had an owie - we showed them her goose-bump-inducing, black bellybutton - so Daddy and Grandma would have to carry them, put on their shoes and get them their meals. I was naive yet again, and the result Friday was two severe, brain-melting tantrums that, coupled with everything else I had to do, were so stressful that my mother and I had our first fight in years.
Parenthood is not what you think it is a lot of the times. It's not playing catch with your son and watching your daughters at a dance recital. A lot of it is exhausting slave labor that isn't fun or even very fulfilling.
Laundry. Clean-up. Wiping shit off their bottoms. Getting them juice. Dressing them like dolls, then making sure they've got their shoes on when it's time to go somewhere. When they're uncooperative, it makes it all twice as hard, and lately they've all been uncooperative a bit too much.
The labor continues outside the house. You have to go somewhere, every day (on my days off too) because staying inside doesn't work. I realize I should have 10 different arts and crafts for them to do, and 12 types of sporting equipment (including mountain climbing and running, of course), and a good computer so they can practice their writing skills. But you know, what we have is a bunch of cheap, crappy toys from McDonalds and birthday parties (along with a few cool toys, we're not sadists here, though most of those are from their grandparents) and a TV that shows mostly bizzare cartoons (what the hell happened to Bugs Bunny?), and all that keeps them entertained for about 3.4 minutes before they start acting up.
So it's off to the park, or a soccer field, or an indoor mall, or the zoo, or the neighborhood pool if it's summer, or many other places we've already been, where we unload them from the minivan and expect them to burn through breakfast.
Sometimes this is fun. One of the best things about being a parent is you get to be a kid again and go to, say, a carnival without any hint of regrets about doing something more important, like going to a museum. But many times these activities only add to the grind.
When we do have quiet time - though that's increasingly filled with noisier time now that the girls, at age 3, have decided naps are too sedentary to fit their active lifestyle - it's usually accompanied by a movie we've seen 75 times. I pulled out "Star Wars" to try to break that up the other day, but he - SIGH - got bored with it after a while.
It's really, really hard not to resent it all. I understood every second of the parents' comments in the New York Magazine story "Why Parents Hate Parenting."
Some have called it just another screed by "whining" parents, but most of those comments are from people who don't have kids or think they have kids because they have, like, a dog and a cat.
Now of course I love my kids. Dearly. That's one of the other things about all this is when you do "whine" about the demands of having children, people assume you're a selfish loaf who doesn't enjoy being a parent and questions why you had kids in the first place. I don't question it. My life is much, much fuller with children than without.
But while I love my kids, I am really coming to terms with the fact that I do not enjoy everything that comes with my kids. In fact I don't enjoy half of it. Maybe more. I find myself longing maybe a bit too hard for the days when I didn't have to chose between an hour of reading, playing a video game or watching a movie - I could do all three in one night. I find myself wishing I didn't have to give up softball this year just so I could continue to train for big races. I find myself wishing I could go to bed later than 10:30 p.m., and then knowing that if I do, I'll be dead the next day because there's no sleeping in any longer.
So maybe I don't enjoy being a parent. I enjoy being a FATHER. I cherish the hugs and kisses. I love hearing the word "Daddy" escape their lips, even if it's to ask for more juice, which is usually is. I adore their cute little faces and live for their laughter when I'm spinning them around.
Only then they want to be spun around again. And again. And again. And then, after a while, I get really dizzy from it all.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


My hands shook as I turned off the mini-van and pulled into the bar's parking lot.

I allowed myself a chuckle.

Shaking? Really? I mean, seriously? I've stared down killer mountains, completed a marathon (a killer in its own right) and finished our third year with twin girls. I've covered tornadoes and murders and approached angry men a lot bigger than me for quotes. I've swam in open water, faced charging dogs and dodged lighting bolts.

And going to a bar to see people I hadn't really even talked to in 20 years is what makes my hands shake?

That's what the past can do to you.

I barely considered going to my 10-year high school reunion. I even chuckled at the thought. I mean, I really did like high school. In a way, I even loved it. I have good memories of being a Shawnee Mission Northwest cougar.

It was, in fact, quite a comeback story after what had to be one of the worst junior high careers anyone's ever experienced.

But I had a good life my first decade out of college. I had a successful career as a newspaper writer, something I'd wanted to do since I wandered into journalism class my sophomore year. I had a lot of friends from varying backgrounds. I had good hobbies, as a musician and a mountain climber. Why in the world, I decided, would I want to bring back those feelings of angst, of not belonging, even bits of unworthiness, when I hadn't felt anything like that in years?

What was the point?

I paused as I sat in my van. I felt the same way I did a decade ago. In many ways, I my life was even better now. The career was the same, even after a couple of scary years in our bad economy, but I was also married, with three beautiful (if not challenging) children, and I was in the best shape of my life.

Still, there was no backing out now. Facebook can cause problems, which I understand, but it's a wonderful opportunity to get back in touch with people you thought you'd never see again. I always regretted losing contact with some of the best friends of my life, even if it felt good to shed all those awkward, lingering feelings from my teen years. It seemed like losing all those relationships was a pretty stiff price to pay to feel like a different person. I even wondered if it was also unnecessary.

And it was because of Facebook that I was in that bar, and so, before I knew it, I had committed to my 20th anniversary high school reunion. I planned our annual trip to Kansas to see my family and Kate's grandmother around it. I bought tickets, and they were, quite honestly, too expensive to throw away. I tend to do things like that in advance to prevent me from chickening out at the last minute. I entered the marathon four months before the race for the same reason.

But I had to wonder, even as I'd already called my old group of friends and texted others that I would meet them there, why I was putting myself through all this again.

I sighed as I got out of the van. I tried to slip on my ragged bulldog mentality, as if this was just another peak.

I saw one of my good friends right away and relaxed. This will sound awful, but he wasn't one of the "popular" students, and so I felt like I was on his level. Here's a confession: I got pretty hung up on the class system of high school, even if I didn't really care about not being in the upper echelon, and I did it mostly to keep myself in my place, not others. As silly as it sounds today, remember, we WERE, like, 16. At 16, I thought U2 sucked and Poison ruled. I had a mullet. No one should really be held too accountable for the choices we make at that age, which is why teen pregnancy breaks my heart. But I'm kinda rambling. It was a long weekend.

ANYWAY, that last sentence might have given things away a bit. I entered the bar, saw some friends, my closest friends from high school arrived, and it was comfortable almost right away. They looked the same. They were more mature. That, unfortunately, is also unavoidable. But I was stunned at how easy it was to talk to these people again.

I even talked to some I hardly ever saw in high school. We had a large class - more than 400 - and so it was possible to completely avoid whole groups of folks until you graduated. Some of those were the upper echelons who ran cross country (which was actually cool at our school thanks to a coach who has won like 25 state titles), and they approached ME and wanted to talk running. Well, I mean, let's be honest. I know a thing or two about it, and they immediately said they'd heard I ran my first marathon. How did they know that?

It would have confused me a bit if these people were talking to me 20 years ago, but I quickly realized that while some of those people would hang on to those classes, but I needed to let them go.

When we gathered at another bar later, with at least 100 others, I had one of the best times in recent memory, and I even closed the place down. I got home at 2:30 a.m. I remember getting UP at 2:30 a.m. many times in the past few years, thanks to the twins, but I hadn't to bed that late in a long, long time.

It was wonderful, I told Mom the next day, after I got up at 9 a.m. when one of my girls jumped on my head and told me I "needed to get up."

That made the actual 20-year reunion the next night easier to take. I felt those same nerves at first, and to be honest, it didn't get much better after the first hour, until the beers kicked in, and even then it was sort of weird. I expected that though. People had their friends, and naturally they wanted to talk to them. I wasn't in a lot of those groups, and I remember being OK with that. I was even more OK with it that night.

I introduced Kate to some close friends, watched people for a while, regrettably missed talking to a couple others and left an hour before it closed.

We had a 5 a.m. date with the road back to Colorado.

I will probably talk to a few of them again, either on Facebook or maybe through a Christmas card. But then again, I don't know that for sure. I may never seem some of them again. I'll do my best, but people have their lives to lead, we all have our own futures to carve, and we can't keep relying on the past to make us happy along the way. That's what the present is for.

So what was the point?

Well, one of those best friends commented on Facebook the next day that there was something about knowing you've still got close friends in the world. These people know you in a way hardly anyone else does, even your closest friends today, and you know them just as well. It's nice to know that these people who you loved do not completely change. One of my friends laughed in that same goofy voice, and another still talks in rapid bursts, like an English Uzi, without ever taking a breath, and another still chews on her hair when she's quiet.

People do change. That's inevitable. It's good that they do. But their core, their internal selves that brought you all together like magnets, doesn't really evolve, and that's wonderful because it means you know those people will always be there for you.

Even if you haven't seen them in 20 years.

The past can be scary. It never changes. But it is possible to replace some of those worst moments with memories that actually make you smile instead of cringe.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Entertainer

Vacation (n) - Leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure.

Sorry. Can you excuse the tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks at the moment?
OK? OK. Thanks.
We are still in Kansas/Missouri for our annual trip home. I have called it a vacation because I am away from work. So part of the definition fits.
But vacations are not what they used to be since we had kids. Especially after we had twins. Vacations, actually, are more work than, well, work.
The problem with going on vacation is traveling is hard on the kids. It makes them cranky, irritable and tired. It makes us feel the same way, only we as parents don't get to express it except in biting each other's heads off. Kids get to express it by throwing three fits a day, throwing stuff around Grandma's house (which Grandma doesn't like because she's long forgotten what it was like to have little ones running around) and throwing a bonus fit at bedtime. Let's couple that with their general spastic hyperactivity and throw in the Twin factor, and you have what is commonly called a "shitstorm."
So that leaves us with two choices. Locking them in the basement, unfortunately, is not really an option because I will not be able to afford therapy later in my life. So the only real option is to get them out of the house and give them something to do.
So that's been our "vacation." There is no rest or leisure. Little pleasure, either, unless you consider watching your kid paint a cardboard snake under a florescent light a kick in the pants. And I kind of do enjoy watching my kids have fun. They're at a cute age. But after a while, you want to have fun yourself.
I think this is why parents eat a lot on vacation because it's generally the only "me" time they get. When we went to Gates barbecue one night to pick up some sauced-up heaven, in a place where the smoker burns your eyes and the floor sticks to your shoes, I was truly thinking of myself, not the kids. It felt great. It was probably the only time this whole time I've had the luxury of doing that.
I think this might be one of the toughest parts of having small children. When you go on vacation, you don't get a vacation. You get to come up with ways to burn the days for your kids.
In fairness, this is also one of the joys of kids. You get to be a kid yourself again. We go to the zoo, to some really cool parks and the aforementioned craft place where kids do a bunch of artwork for free.
My favorite was a cool dinosaur exhibit with moving, life-sized dinosaur robots. Of course, the kids were too scared. So I didn't really enjoy it as much as I could have. Then again, I doubt I would have gone if I didn't have kids.
My 20th high school reunion is Saturday. That is for me. I hope that's fun. But that, along with my kid, also doesn't necessarily depend on must me.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Why Shane Carwin matters

One of my running friends sent me the text as we sat in an Applebee's, with me and Kate both sipping on margaritas in the corner of the bar and trying to look inconspicuous.
"It's packed in here!" it read.
It was one of many bars packed that night in Greeley. There were hundreds more in the Greeley Stampede, our annual county fair, even if it likes to think it's a little bigger than something like that. And I got at least three invitations to viewing parties that would draw dozens to someone's house.
All of them were there to watch the UFC.
That's right. The UFC. The Ultimate Fighting Championship. That's why we were in Applebee's, among people Kate and I have long since left behind in our world now dominated by our minivan, Pixar and overly sweetened snacks.
There are 10 good reasons to be in Applebee's at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night with your spouse, but until a couple years ago, watching the UFC wasn't one of them. But that was before Shane Carwin got big.
Shane Carwin, the Greeley native. Our Shane. Our fighter.
We were in Applebee's in Belton, Mo., because we were back home on my annual trip to Kansas. I mean "Kansas" in a home sort of sense because, really, heading back to Belton and also Overland Park, Kan., to see my parents is a return trip home. It's a chance to spend time with my folks, eat nostalgic food (mmmm barbecue), get away from work on the cheap and let my kids see a little of my old life, even if a lot of my past life is really no longer there.
We had suffered a bit to get back home, as we usually do. Jayden does pretty well in the car, but the girls, now 3, still whined quite a bit, and one of the whining sessions escalated into a full-blown meltdown, one so bad I thought about leaving them at a rest stop. The only thing that saved us was the girls now watch DVDs better than last year (and, really, how did my parents get us across a road trip when we were kids when all we had was an Etch-A-Sketch to keep us entertained?).
I really look forward to going back home. Yet all those texts were making me miss Greeley.
Carwin was doing that to me.
I understand that the UFC is more popular than ever, perhaps more popular than boxing now, but it's not quite mainstream. Many of the uninitiated still see it as a brutal, bloody match between two tattooed fighters with bizzare haircuts and few teeth. Still, more and more people in Greeley were becoming fans. The geeky engineers Carwin works with. Runners. City officials. Me. People, in other words, you would not expect to see at a gruesome cage fight.
Why? Well, first of all, Carwin's a pretty interesting guy. He's a hydraulics engineer who still works for a water division. He's also quiet and humble and classy. So he's a smart, likeable guy who also happens to be one of the true badasses in the world.
If you want, you can read more about him in one of my favorite stories of this year.
Carwin was also a monster in MMA. He had destroyed all his opponents in the first round. People, I think, love dominant sports figures even in sports they may not understand. Look at Tiger Woods' popularity, even after he cheated on his wife with porn stars.
But the real reason everyone in Greeley, it seemed, was watching a sport that, until a couple months ago, many knew nothing about, or even avoided, was because Carwin was our guy.
He was Greeley.
Carwin was a big deal. He was fighting for the heavyweight title against perhaps the most famous current fighter in the UFC right now, Brock Lesnar. Lesnar was also a beast, like Carwin, and both were huge guys, bigger than anybody else in the UFC.
There were so many storylines - good vs. evil, Lesnar's year-long illness, how it seemed both were fighting a doppleganger, Carwin's and Lesnar's speedy rise to the top - and most of them were, of course, exaggerated by the media. Yet all those storylines made this the biggest fight of the year and one of the biggest fights in the UFC's history.
Carwin was like our college playing in the national championship.
I felt it too. Just before the bell rang I had big-time butterflies, as if Kansas was playing against Memphis for the title all over again.
Most of Greeley, too, seemed to be watching, and that's why Shane Carwin mattered that night.
Let's face it. Greeley is a city of about 100,000. We are a town famous for the way it (used to) smell like cows, for being close to Fort Collins and Boulder and Denver and for things like the Stampede.
But, dammit, I love it there. It's also a place with Colorado's beautiful weather and an incredible view of the mountains and several very cool little parks and places to run, in addition to many of the best friends I've ever had. It's a great place to live. Yes, it needs work, but so do many other cities our size.
And that's just it. There isn't much residents of a city our size can rally around. We don't even have a minor league baseball team. We've had some tough things happen to us lately, too, like a 12-year-old who vanished and was later found murdered in a ditch, and no town wants to make the news for something like that.
Yet Carwin marched down in one of the biggest events of the year with Greeley attached to his name. And yes, the fight lasted like 10 minutes, and he lost an amazing battle thanks to Lesnar's sheer guts, but man, we were all yelling for him, full-throated, in that first round when he battered Lesnar and gave him the test of his life, all of us together. Even if we were far away, like I was.
Wishing I was home.