Feature flashback – L.J. Shelton

This feature on Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman L.J. Shelton appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 7, 2003.

Healthy Shelton expecting big year

By Ed Odeven

Despite playing with an injured right ankle last season, L.J. Shelton had his finest all-around season as a pro.

The injury, originally a sprain, occurred in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Now, the Arizona Cardinals’ starting left tackle is looking forward to having an even more productive, injury-free season. He underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery on May 2. That was followed by eight weeks of rehabilitation, which ended just before the start of training camp.

“I had a bad sprain. I played through it for 14 games, so it worked out pretty good for me, being that I was hurt,” Shelton said after Thursday’s morning practice at NAU’s East Fields. “But it’s a scary feeling out there not knowing what’s going on, then finding out later that there’s a piece of bone floating around in there.”

While enduring the pain in his ankle, Shelton was able to concentrate on fine-tuning his skills.

“My injury forced me to focus on my technique a whole lot more, so I was able to really get my feet under my balance,” said Shelton, whose father, Lonnie, was a 10-year pro in the NBA and played for the 1978 NBA champion Seattle SuperSonics.

“I had to really focus on the footwork to keep my balance because the muscles in my ankle weren’t strong.”

Which is why he’s not trying to do too much in the preseason.

“I’m a little rusty because I didn’t do any of the mini-camps because of my off-season surgery. I’m not too hard on myself right now,” he said. “I know I’m able to play, but I want to play at a high level. I’m not quite there yet. I have four preseason games and a bunch more practices to get me there, so I’m not too worried about it right now.”

Adding depth to the o-line has been a key objective for the Cardinals. Guard Cameron Spikes, who played for the Houston Texans last year, was a free-agent pickup during the off-season. Guys like centers Steve Grace and Jason Starkey; tackles Reggie Wells, Kendrick Rogers and Watts Sanderson; guards Tony Wragge and Teag Whitting; and guard/tackle Raleigh Roundtree (who is recovering from a splenectomy) are vying for spots on the roster. Another lineman, Frank Garcia, will miss the first four games of the regular season after violating the NFL’s drug policy by testing positive for ephedra.

In 2002, the Cardinals’ starting offensive line was besieged by injuries. Center Mike Gruttaduria (knee), tackle Leonard Davis (knee), guard Pete Kendall (knee) and tackle Anthony Clement (triceps) all missed games. Shelton was the only one to start all 16 games.

“We’re not just counting on five guys to get it done,” Shelton said. “We’re counting on all eight or nine guys to make this team and get it done. We’re aware that it’s hard for the whole line to make it through 16 games. Injuries are going to happen. We’ve got to be able to have guys step in.”

When you’re 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, like Shelton, size and strength are the physical attributes people notice about you right away. The untrained eye might not see how exceptional Shelton’s footwork is.

“His biggest asset is his feet,” offensive line coach Pete Hoener said. “He has remarkable feet for a big man. (He has) quick feet, he’s athletic, he has great balance, and those are things that you need to have playing left tackle.

“I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s very gifted athletically. He understands the game. Again, once he continues to master his techniques he could be one of the best.”

Shelton, a No. 1 pick (21st overall) by the Cardinals in the 1999 draft, is in the final year of a five-year deal, a year in which he’ll make $560,000. He said he’s not dwelling on getting a new contract.

Instead, his focus is on the football field.

“Last year was a big year for me just as a confidence-booster, my first year playing consistently at a high level,” Shelton said. “I just want to carry that over to this year. If I can build on last year, then all the rest of it financially will take care of itself.”

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A hopeless optimist: Paola Boivin, distinguished sports columnist

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (July 11, 2015) — For two-plus decades, Paola Boivin has been a fixture in Phoenix-area sports, reporting  and crafting columns on Pac-10 (now Pac-12) sports and the growing pro scene, including the arrival of the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This is what I know: She writes thought-provoking, well-organized columns. She does her homework. She asks good questions. She has a good handle on how to structure stories and how to pack them with quality anecdotes, important facts and opinions that resonate with readers. She’s a personable journalist, a good interviewer and a pro’s pro with empathy for those she writes about.

Over the years, she has written about everything and everybody, ranging from Pat Tillman’s death to Super Bowls, Olympics, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament title games, NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL playoff contests to current players and coaches’ perspectives on the Confederate flag. Boivin has worked at The Arizona Republic since September 1995 after a six-year stint at the Los Angeles Daily News. Before that, she served as a sportswriter and then sports editor at the Camarillo (California) Daily News (1984-1988).

In an April interview with Illinois Alumni Magazine, Boivin said, “I’m drawn to the human stories—the underdog, the long shot, the forgotten person.”

I interviewed Boivin recently to learn more about her career, her influences, what motivates her on the job and other reflections on her life and work.

***

What’s the best way to describe your style as a journalist and as a columnist? Of course it can differ from day to day and sport to sport, but how would you summarize your basic approach to this work and the way you do your job?

It took me forever to find my voice as a columnist. For a long time I tried to be something I wasn’t: a screamer and finger-pointer, the print version of some sports talk radio hosts. I’m not that. I would wake up the next day, read my work and cringe because it felt unauthentic.

The reality is I’m a hopeless optimist. A listener. And someone who loves a good story. I think (hope) interview subjects pick up on those traits and realize their story will receive fair treatment. It doesn’t mean I can’t be skeptical or outraged or anything of those things that are at the heart of good journalism, it just means I lead with an optimistic foot. And sleep better at night.

How has being a mother shaped the way you view sports and their role in society at large? And do you think motherhood changed your perspective on sports somewhat?

Both of my children are athletes: my daughter a runner and my son a basketball player. To have a front-row view of how athletics has impacted their lives has been a game-changer. Young girls are bombarded with air-brushed magazine covers and unrealistic expectations. How can they not grow up with body-image issues? Feeling strong and athletic is empowering. And the lessons my children learned about discipline and commitment and teamwork were better than any of the words of advice that I would spew out at home, which they probably tuned out anyway!

Motherhood has many me appreciate sports even more.

Of the biggest compliments received over the years from journalist peers and readers for something you’ve written, can you share a few details of two or three of them that really meant something to you?

Without question it’s the feedback I received following an article I wrote about a transgender golfer who dreamed of playing in the LPGA. I received emails from parents who said the story made them better understand their children who were battling identity issues, and from a man who found comfort reading the piece because his journey, that was almost halted by suicide, was about to take a similar turn. It was all because my subject, Bobbi Lancaster, a well-respected doctor in the Phoenix area, was so open about her life. I was so grateful for that.

Journalism should never be about the praise but it felt good to know the article impacted lives. I love, too, how my voicemails have changed over the years in Phoenix. They used to be “you’re an idiot woman who knows nothing about sports.” Now they’re “you’re an idiot who knows nothing about sports.” Progress!

What did receiving APSE Top 10 columnist recognition in 2011 mean to you? Did that inspire you, fire you up for the coming years, too? What do you think was your best column for 2010? And do you have an all-time No. 1 favorite?

I guess it was my Sally Field “You like me, you really like me” moment. It is hard to grow up as a female sports journalist in the era I did and swell with confidence. From the early locker room battles to peers (in my past) suggesting I was the product of equal-opportunity hiring and not talent stings, especially for a ball of insecurity like me. It absolutely did inspire me and shifted my motivation into a higher gear. Ha. I guess I’m supposed to say awards are meaningless but I would be lying.

My favorite column from 2010 was one I wrote about Steve Nash. I was in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics and took a side trip to Victoria to visit the home in which he grew up. If you hopped over the fence in his backyard, you would find a basketball hoop that belonged to an elementary school. He would shoots hundreds of free throws a day there as a kid, trying to improve his percentage each time. I couldn’t stop staring at that hoop. It was the symbol of how hard work can shape an athlete. I also had the opportunity to talk to childhood friends, family members and coaches and to visit his high school. It was the closest I ever came to truly understanding how an athlete at his high level achieved greatness.

That one (http://archive.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2010/02/28/20100228suns-steve-nash-vancouver-CP.html) and the transgender one are probably my all-time favorites.

How did your time at the Camarillo Daily News and Los Angeles Daily News – 10  important years – shape your approach to journalism and give you the foundation for all the reporting, column writing, talk-show work you’ve done since? Can you think of a couple important lessons, including the biggest one, you learned early in your career?

Both jobs were amazing and I remain grateful for the people who gave me the opportunities  there. The Camarillo Daily News, which, sniff, is no longer around, was my first full-time job. I started as a sportswriter and later became sports editor of a three-person staff. I had to do everything: report, write, edit, design. I stumbled plenty of times along the way, including once, when running a story about a USC running back named Aaron Emmanuel. I used a photo of actor Emmanuel Lewis instead. Anyone who ever watched the TV show “Webster” knows these two look nothing alike. Fortunately, I caught my mistake right before the story went to print.

Having to do a little bit of everything helped prepare me for the variety of assignments that came my way in the future. I think my willingness to say yes to any assignment, to always being a team player, made me more hireable down the road.

(Side note: I pride myself in having a good eye for talent. While at Camarillo, I hired several terrific writers early in their careers including two still doing great work: Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports and Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune.)

The Los Angeles Daily News was incredible, too. I was in a great sports market surrounded by terrific talent at the paper. My first beat was covering UCLA football and basketball. It didn’t get much better than meeting John Wooden at his favorite breakfast spot and talking hoops.

While I was at the Daily News, I sometimes covered Dodgers game. It was at a time when women in the locker room was still a hot topic. I would walk into the clubhouse and stare at the ground. One day, the great Orel Hershiser pulled me aside and said, “Keep your head up and look like you belong here. Because you do.” I always think of that when I walk in a clubhouse now. I am forever grateful for that moment.

For you, who are a few must-read journalists in print and online? What makes their work something you return to again and again?

Karen Crouse, one of my best friends, of The New York Times is at the top of my list. I don’t think there is anyone in the country better at finding a fresh way to look at a story and the depth of her reporting is second to none. Subjects trust her. Read her story on Laveranues Coles from 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/18/sports/football/new-trust-lets-coles-share-secret.html) if you need proof. I also find Gregg Doyel, now with the Indianapolis Star, and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports must reads.

I am surrounded by great talent at The Arizona Republic, too. They make me better every day.

How much influence did the late Jim Murray and other L.A. media giants have on your career? Where there individuals in the Chicago area/sports media market who had a similar or bigger influence on you?

Huge. Murray wasn’t only a great writer – it doesn’t get any better for an auto racing story than “Gentlemen, start your coffins” – but he was a gentleman. You could learn a lot from watching how he conducted himself.

There was also a young hotshot at the L.A. Times when I starting out that was creating a lot of buzz among my peers. For good reason. It was Rick Reilly. He was only there a few years before Sports Illustrated grabbed him.

I think my biggest influence in the Chicago area, quite honestly, was the sports editor of my local paper, the Chicago Heights Star, the late John Meyers. I read his work religiously in high school. He gave me my first professional opportunity, writing during my summers home from college. And when I grew up, Chicago had three daily papers: the Sun-Times, Tribune and Daily News. Three! It was a sports lover’s dream. I ate it up.

Bob Moran at the East  Valley Tribune (who died of cancer at age 55 in 2008) and Steve Schoenfeld at the Republic and then CBS SportsLine (killed at age 45 by a hit-and-run driver in 2000) were among the most gifted and well-respected sports journalists who covered the Pac-10 and the NFL, respectively, who’ve ever worked in Arizona. What is their legacy, individually and/or collectively, as it’s carried on and remembered by those who worked with him and grew as journalists in that time?

Both were amazing men.

Bob Moran was a consummate pro who loved his work. Everybody respected him because he was defined by his knowledge and integrity. He was my “competitor” during my first beat in Phoenix covering Arizona State. I learned a ton from him.

From Steve Schoenfeld, we all better understood the art of reporting and the value of relationships. He knew everybody! It served him well in his job. His funeral service was so large they held it in a concert hall. That showed just how popular and respected he was.

Both left us way too soon.

Have sports become too serious, too analytical, too high school calculus-like because of the explosion in metrics over the past decade? Is this more of a good thing or bad thing? Or is it just a different era?

Like chocolate, metrics are fine in moderation. They have great value but it’s important to remember, too, metrics can’t measure heart. And heart is a big part of sports.

With a respected, successful tenure at The Arizona Republic, writing for the paper (and also along the way its website) since 1995, how much more does your voice, your ideas, carry weight when it comes to pinpointing story angles, assignments and your schedule than it did when you arrived to work there in Phoenix?

I’m blessed to have a sports editor, Mark Faller, who trusts my instincts. We will bounce ideas off one another but I can dictate much of my writing path. I think early in my career I sought more guidance in that regard than I do now.

As someone who observed the growth and history of the Arizona Diamondbacks since their inception, how important was Joe Garagiola Sr. as a behind-the-scenes guy within the organization and as a connection to the fans and the game’s rich history during his work as a TV analyst through 2013? 

I think what Joe Sr. has done for baseball in general has been spectacular. He founded two important organizations: the Baseball Assistance Team, to help the needy with connections to the game, and the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. Talk about impacting a lot of lives.

As a broadcaster, few have as many anecdotes as Joe Sr. His willingness to share them are not only entertaining but educational in terms of history of the game. And his sense of humor is a great example of what sports broadcasting should be.

Of all the athletes who hail from Arizona and who call or have called Arizona home, who are three you’d put at the top of any list?

That’s a tough one. I guess it depends on the criteria. I’ll make mine the top three who have impacted the landscape since I’ve lived here.

  1. Jerry Colangelo. I’m going to cheat a bit. He wasn’t an athlete here but he changed the sports scene in Arizona like no other. He is gave us an MLB franchise and great memories with an NBA one. He also gets an assist for helping our NHL team arrive.
  1. Kurt Warner. What he did for the Cardinals — leading a franchise that was long a laughing stock to a Super Bowl — was remarkable.
  2. Charles Barkley. His popularity with Suns fans and his national visibility today are hard to top. He still lives here and people very much think of him as one of their own.

Similarly …. same questions but for coaches?

Lute Olson. Lute Olson. And Lute Olson.

If you were granted a one-on-one interview without any restrictions ASAP with Sepp Blatter, what’s the first question you’d ask him?

How do you sleep at night?

***

Follow Paola Boivin on Twitter: @PaolaBoivin

Read her journalism work here: http://www.azcentral.com/staff/10465/paola-boivin/

“To be successful in life you have to give up something” — Billy Hatcher

This featured appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun (June 19, 2004).

2015 update: Billy Hatcher is in his 10th season as a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

LIVING A DREAM

By Ed Odeven
PHOENIX — He had seven consecutive hits in the 1990 World Series, helping the Cincinnati Reds sweep the heavily favored Oakland A’s. He hit a game-tying 14th-inning home run in the action-packed Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series.

Those were, of course, memorable moments. But Billy Hatcher’s point of view is this: His biggest thrill as a big league ballplayer occurred the first moment he donned a Chicago Cubs uniform in 1984, his first day in the majors.

“My first time getting called up to the big leagues was just amazing,” said Hatcher, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ first base coach, before Friday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark. “It was something that I had worked for, for my entire life, and then getting that opportunity (was indescribable).

“I don’t think winning the World Series or doing the job I did in the World Series (hitting .750, 9-for-12) would ever (compare) with that moment, the feeling I had. … It’s a feeling that I can never, ever cherish again. I would cherish winning another World Series, because I would win one as a coach.”

Hatcher, a 1979 graduate of Williams High School, has been a mainstay of the Devil Rays’ organization since beginning his coaching career on Dec. 1, 1995, two-plus years before the franchise would play its inaugural season.

He spent the 1996 season as Tampa Bay’s roving minor league instructor and then worked as a coach for St. Petersburg, the 1997 Florida State League champion. He has served on the D-Rays’ coaching staff since ’98, spending time as the third base coach (2000), bench coach (2001-02) and first base coach (1998-99 and 2003-present).

Hatcher has taken a natural liking to this occupation.

“I probably get more enjoyment out of teaching than I did playing,” said Hatcher, who retired as a player in 1995 after playing a dozen seasons for seven ballclubs: the Cubs, Houston, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and, lastly, Texas.

“I love playing the game,” he continued, while sitting in the dugout and champing on a mouthful of Bazooka bubble gum. “When you were playing, you only had to worry about yourself. As a coach, you teach and worry about so many other players. To see these guys get better every single day just makes you feel good.”

Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford, one of the team’s talented, young players, said Hatcher has the natural disposition to be a coach.

“He’s real patient, laid-back, trying to keep everybody loose,” Crawford added. “He’s not up there in your face; he just lets you know what you need to do.”

According to Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, Crawford and center fielder Rocco Baldelli, a rising star, have especially benefited from Hatcher’s coaching.

“Hatcher is an excellent coach,” the manager said. “He’s outgoing. He communicates well. He’s got a lot of baseball knowledge. He works primarily with the baserunners, with the outfielders and him and (third base coach Tom) Foley sometimes do a little bit of the bunting (instruction).

“Billy is a good baseball man, he really is. He’s got some passion for the game. He’s enthusiastic and he’s a hard worker.”

In his own words, what sums up Hatcher’s coaching style?

“They understand how to play the game,” he said. “I give them a few tips on how I used to do things. But basically, I tell those guys to never get down on themselves. You are going to make mistakes. … The best baseball players forget real quick.”

THE LONG ROAD

Hatcher, who turned 43 in October, credits his father for giving him the proper perspective in regards to reaching his lifelong goal: to be a major leaguer.

He says he recalled hearing time and time again his father’s words of wisdom: “To be successful in life you have to give up something.”

For Hatcher, that initially meant playing for the Vikings’ varsity baseball team (from 1976-79) and running on the track and field team during the spring months. In those days, he’d step off the baseball diamond and run sprints just minutes after taking off his batting helmet and unlacing his baseball spikes.

It was time to work on becoming a well-conditioned athlete, which, he said, meant sacrificing time that could’ve been spent hanging out with his friends.

After he became a pro player, it meant spending five consecutive years (1981-85) playing winter ball in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

But the extra months on foreign soil paid off, giving Hatcher the opportunity to work on his skills — and get better.

By 1986, he was in the big leagues to stay. And he didn’t leave “The Show” until hanging up his hat at the end of the 1995 season, when he played for the Rangers. The speedy outfielder with an excellent glove wound up playing in 1,233 games and collecting 1,146 hits.

And forever, Hatcher’s name is one future generations of ballplayers will know about in the tiny town of Williams: The WHS baseball field is named after its famous alum.

“I’m very blessed and I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to be in the game of baseball as long as I’ve been,” said Hatcher, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., with his wife, Karen, and their two children: Derek (18) and Chelsea (14).

RETURNING TO ARIZONA

Believe it or not, Friday’s trip to Bank One Ballpark marked the first time Hatcher stepped foot in the Diamondbacks’ home facility.

Is this a special building for you? he was asked.

“Yes, it is,” he said.

Growing up during a time when the Phoenix Giants (later known as the Firebirds) of the Pacific Coast League were the closest thing the Grand Canyon State team had to a big league ballclub, Hatcher said he was thrilled when Arizona was awarded an expansion franchise. And even though the 2004 Diamondbacks do not resemble the team that won the 2001 World Series, Hatcher said it’s important for the fans to continue to support their team wholeheartedly.

“You never know what you really have until you don’t have it anymore,” he said.

The same could be said for the opportunity Hatcher has had getting to play and coach for one of the game’s all-great skippers, Piniella.

“Lou was my manager in Cincinnati. I won a world championship with Lou,” said Hatcher, whose mom, Gracie, and sister, Nell, reside in Williams while his two brothers, Johnny and Jesse, call Flagstaff home.

“Lou was not only my manager, Lou is also a good friend of mine. Lou has helped me in so many other ways besides baseball. He’s just been a friend to talk with … So, to me, he ranks No. 1 in my book.”

Even so, he’s eager to put his stamp on the Devil Rays, always ready to make things happen from the first-base coaching box. In essence, his position there is a direct extension of his playing days.

“At first base, we have some guys with some speed that can steal some bases,” he said. “In fact, I’m stealing bases with ’em, because I’ve picked up a move, (noticing) what a guy is doing, the first move. I tell guys a lot of times when to go. … That’s how I learned how to play the game.”

Having been raised in a small town, Hatcher never forgot his roots, never forgot the people that were his emotional backbone in his formative years.

“I want to thank all the people in northern Arizona for supporting me during my playing days,” Hatcher said. “I really appreciate it, and I still love them.”

Jockey’s tale of frightening injuries, love of racing

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on July 2, 2004.

Sorrells knows dangers of horse racing all too well

By Ed Odeven

Saying horse racing isn’t a dangerous sport is like saying Lieutenant Stitchie is the most popular Jamaican musician of all time.

Neither statement is true.

But the following statement is 100 percent accurate: Jockeys are a special breed.

Only a select group of individuals possess the athleticism, not to mention the diminutive size and weight, needed to be a professional jockey. In addition, they need intense mental focus to guide a horse that generally weighs about 1,000 pounds at speeds up to 40 mph.

Some say it’s the hardest activity in sports. Or as Flagstaff resident Jim Miller, taking a break Friday morning from reading the Fort Tuthill racing program put it: “It’s much more difficult than it appears. … You have a lot of dependence on the guys you are riding with. If somebody screws up (you’re in trouble).”

Janna Sorrells won’t dispute the fact that her job is difficult. She has the scars to prove it.

On Jan. 23 at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Sorrells sustained a serious injury, breaking her neck in two places.

How frightening was that experience? I asked her.

“I don’t remember none of it, but they say it was pretty bad,” said Sorrells, who’s competing in the Fourth of July weekend races at Fort Tuthill Downs. “I lost all the skin on my face. I mean, yeah, it was bad. Anytime you go down it’s bad, but at least with mine it was minor.”

Here’s what she does recall:

“It wasn’t a collision,” Sorrells said. “It was a distance trial race. I remember being behind Bill Campbell, who was next to me, and there was about six (horses) in front of us and four behind us.”

Sorrells made her move toward the front of the pack. The rest of the details are a bit foggy. She sustained a concussion.

“My horse broke his neck and broke his leg, and I remember waking up in the ER,” she said.

Sorrells, 34, wore a neck brace for three months and had physical rehab (mostly massages and electrotherapy) for six weeks. But let’s back up a minute. While still wearing the neck brace, Sorrells began going to a Valley gym. She walked on a treadmill and swam.

“The doctor told me not to do much, but I did do stuff like that,” she said of the exercises.

Sorrells was asked if she ever thought she wouldn’t ride again.

“No,” she said, “as long as I can walk. No. … Bones heal pretty quick. It was just a matter of making sure it was healed enough that if I go down again it doesn’t re-break quick.”

For Sorrells, the medical bills piled up pretty quickly. She said she’s lost track of how much they are, but estimated they are at least $60,000. “And I’m still going. I’m still in therapy right now,” she added.

But since the accident occurred at Turf Paradise, the racetrack’s insurance covers the cost of her bills.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? Disability pay is $200 per week from The Jockeys’ Guild, plus another $200 from the track. Sorrells was accustomed to earning $1,000 to $2,000 a week riding at Turf Paradise. She said she doesn’t have an extravagant lifestyle, though.

Comparing the amount of money professional ballplayers make while serving stints on the disabled list to what jockeys get, Sorrells said “it’s crazy.”

She’s right.

Even with a union, injured jockeys struggle to pay the bills. Which is why the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund is such a vital resource for so many jockeys. It has provided financial assistance to more than 1,500 riders since 1987. “When you get hurt, you call them and tell them you need help, and they help you,” Sorrells said.

Talking to her, one senses she loves her job and the excitement of it. But I pressed her for more details about the euphoria of winning.

Sorrells said, “I win stakes races, I win for big trainers, but probably the ones for the little guy that’s got one horse that hasn’t won a race, those are the ones that are really cool.”

So, too, is Sorrells’ focus. She says she doesn’t want to be a jockey forever. She went to real estate school while spending those five months away from racing.

And how’d her return to the track go?

On her first official day back, May 29 at Yavapai Downs, Sorrells placed first, second, third and fourth.

“I’ve done well,” she said, modestly.

Today is Riders Helping Riders Jockey Across American XVI, a day in which more than 40 regular tracks — but not Fort Tuthill — around the country host events, such as bake sales, autograph sessions and jockey foot races, to help in the fundraising endeavors.

A profile of iconic mentor Jack Daniels, aka “the world’s best (running) coach”

This feature appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of Cross Country Journal

JACK DANIELS RETIRED?
By Ed Odeven

It’s June 20, 2005. Jack Daniels isn’t ready for retirement. He’s ready for a new challenge. And so, the day after an interview with this correspondent, he was to meet with movers at his upstate New York home.

The next destination: Flagstaff, Arizona. It is here where Dr. Daniels, formerly the cross country coach at State University of New York at Cortland, will begin his new job, July 1st, as the head coach for the U.S. Distance Running Program at Northern Arizona University’s Center for High Altitude Training. He will also spearhead the Center’s Community Olympic Development Program.

In short, Daniels’ decades of experience as a world-renowned coach, author, and consultant (to Jim Ryun, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Ken Martin, among others) will be put to use in a new locale. And for the man who’s been called “the world’s best coach,” by Runner’s World Magazine, it’s his goal to help elite-level athletes maximize their training and help promising athletes blossom under his tutelage.

“I’m really excited about it,” the septuagenarian says. “There are several things I hope to accomplish. One os being able to help relocate athletes that want to come here and train. Another is to get something going to really expand what is available for all the people in the community, whether it’s old kids, young kids, or adults who want to get fitter and involved in running. I’m really interesting in seeing what we can do.

“My whole life has been geared around fitness,” he continues. “I’m really kind of disappointed with how unfit we are as a nation. I guess I’d like to see Flagstaff take the lead and make a genuine commitment to fitness, so they could say this is the fittest community in the United States. All we’ve got to do is go out and do something.”

For his entire life, Daniels has been a go-getter. As a high school student in Redwood City, California, Daniels was eager to participate in the school’s athletic programs. “Looking back on those days, we were just extremely fit at out high school,” he says.

Six years after Daniels graduate from Sequoia High School, classmates Tim Goran and Bob Cooper were representing the United States in diving and water polo, respectively. And Daniels was a member of the 1956 and 1960 USA Olympic squads as a heptathlete. He won a silver medal in his first Olympiad even though he was originally selected as an alternate (a teammate broke his leg in a horseback riding accident, sending Jack to the Olympics.)

Being a two-time Olympian opened doors for Daniels. He studied in Sweden, did research on high altitude training in Mexico City in the 1960s and later spent a years as a consultant to the Peruvian national team.

Over the years, Daniels’ philosophy has been guided by the belief that everybody deserves an opportunity. “This is another opportunity,” he says of his efforts to establish the program in Arizona, including outreach to Native American tribes in the area. “The ability is up to individuals and parents. You have to make the opportunity available to as many people as you can. The final ingredient is direction and hopefully we can offer that to anybody who is interested.”

Daniels commended organizations such as Wings of America and individuals like Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, whom he’s known since 1960, for their efforts in promoting running for Native Americans. “I think there is a lot that can be done,” he admits, “and they are doing a lot right now.”

His future efforts will include education young people and their parents about running and the benefits of fitness. “I’m sure most of them already know about that,” he says, “but need a little boost or confirmation.”

Nowadays, Daniels runs 20-30 minutes every day. “Some days I’ll go a little more,” he says. “Haven’t missed a day in six years.” It’s this commitment to running that goes well beyond his doctorate in exercise physiology and his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula.”

Sean Anthony, the Center’s assistant director, said, “The hiring of Dr. Daniels provides us great leverage in increasing the success of distance running for USA Track and Field. He will be a considerable resource person for Northern Arizona University as a whole, and his presence will likely provide some interesting opportunities for faculty and students in such areas as biology and exercise science.”

Daniels will be a featured speaker July 28 during the altitude center’s Distance Coaching Classic, a two-day seminar for coaches to hear about high altitude training, racing theory, overtraining, sports nutrition, sports psychology and other key topics.

In the Grand Canyon State, Daniels plans to build a strong base of core runners for the short term, but hopes in the long run to have a core group here in Flagstaff for training during most of the year.

Among the athletes who have already expressed an interested in training at Flagstaff are:

Magdalena Louis, 5th in Olympic Trials in 2004.

Heather Tanner.

Amy Begley, a 5,000-meter runner.

Peter Gilmore, who was recently selected to run for the U.S. in August at the World Marathon Championships in Helsinki.

“And there are several others. We’ll see after nationals coming up,” he says. “We’ll be talking to some of the athletes.”

“In all my years of altitude research and training distance runners, I can’t imagine a better place for this type of program. The weather and the environment are ideal, facilities are outstanding, and there is a group of individuals involved and they are very experienced and successful in working with elite and emerging athletes. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I hope I am able to help increase interest and success in running and in exercise in general.”

Under Daniels’ tutelage, Cortland runners captured seven NCAA Division III national championships, 24 individual national titles and more than 110 All-American awards.

“Running is like my thanksgiving. I’m alive today I get to run.”

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Oct. 15, 2005.

SAVORING THE LONG ROAD

By Ed Odeven

Major health problems and falling short of the 2004 Olympics haven’t slowed Heather Hanscom’s determination to reach the top of her sport .

“If you greatly desire something, have the guts to stake everything on obtaining it,” Brendan Francis Behan, Irish playwright

This is the scene on a recent weekday: Heather Hanscom finishes a morning workout at NAU’s Lumberjack Stadium track and takes a seat on a metal bench. A few yards away, fellow U.S. distance-running standouts Abdi Abdirahman and Ryan Shay are wrapping up their late-morning routine. At the same time, local fitness guru John Blievernicht, the president of the Institute for Sports, Health & Fitness, is helping mountain biker Dara Marks-Marino do a series of exercises. Then Dr. Jack Daniels, NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training’s head coach, stops by to observe what’s happening.

This is why Hanscom, a marathon runner, moved to Flagstaff in September: to be a part of something.

She was living in Arlington, Va., where she primarily trained alone.

“I just needed a change of scenery,” she says. Also, she remembers, her coach, Matt Centrowitz suggested that “maybe she needed to move to find a group, something a little more conducive to training.”

While vacationing in Finland in July, the determined 27-year-old had a chance to think about her coach’s advice and make plans for what she’d do next.

During the summer months, Hanscom spoke with Frank “Gags” Gagliano, the well-respected coach of the Nike Farm Team in Palo Alto, Calif., and Daniels about her options.

Flagstaff was her choice.

“I had been back for about a week or so and (Daniels) said, ‘You should get down to Flagstaff as soon as you can,’ and so I said, ‘All right, I’ll be there,'” she says.

“In the next week, I was there. … I bought a one-way (airplane) ticket and here I am.”

Hanscom, a 2001 James Madison University grad, is a relative newcomer to the national stage. She didn’t started training for marathons until she finished college.

But what a glorious debut it was.

Remarkably (or was it miraculously?), she finished first in her first-ever marathon, the 2003 Marine Corps Marathon (2 hours, 37 minutes, 59 seconds). She also took 11th at the 2003 USA Cross Country Championships’ 8-kilometer race (28:39).

A year later, she was sixth at her second marathon, the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (2:31.53), and sixth in the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships’ 6K.

Those performances helped Hanscom earn a spot on Team USA’s World Marathon Team for the 2005 IAAF World Championships in August in Helsinki, Finland.

Talk about motivation to train hard.

In June, though, Hanscom’s training came to an abrupt halt.

“I tripped in a pothole and fell and strained pretty much all my stabilizing muscles,” she says.

What happened?

She says she had excruciating pain in her piriformis muscle (a muscle that’s behind the hip joint) and glute muscles.

“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t put any weight on it,” she continues. “I strained both my hip flexors. I couldn’t lift my leg. It was not a very fun two months. I ended up having to pull out of the marathon.”

Still, that injury didn’t spoil Hanscom’s summer. She traveled to Finland anyway. She was the maid of honor at one of her best friend’s weddings. And, yes, she watched the women’s marathon at the world championships.

She spent a month in the Scandinavian nation and began to start running again. Slowly but surely, she was running for 30 minutes again (contrast that with her pre-injury routine of 80-110 miles per week).

Fast forward to early autumn. Hanscom’s finally getting acclimated to Flagstaff’s 7,000 feet.

“I’ve been here almost a month now,” she says, “and I can make it through a run without having air sucked out my lungs.”

Daniels’ plan is for Hanscom to run about 90 miles a week for a few weeks and gradually increase that total to about 130-140.

“The goal right now is just to have her train and build up her fitness level,” the coach says. “This is an ideal place (for that). … Being at altitude shortcuts that process, bringing you from a lower level of fitness to a higher level.

“I think she’ll reach a higher level sooner.”

The real test should come in November, when Hanscom plans to race in two key races: the USATF West Region & Pacific Association Cross Country Championships Nov. 6 in San Francisco and the USATF Club Nationals two weeks later in Rochester, N.Y.

She’s scheduled to return to marathon running in the spring. Competing in P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Phoenix in January could be a tuneup race for her. In the meantime, she also keeps busy as a volunteer coach for the Center for High’s Altitude Training’s new Middle School Running Program, working with St. Mary’s Catholic School students Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

Hanscom took up the sport as a middle-school student, often joining her father for runs.

A couple years later, Hanscom, then a high school freshman, was diagnosed with cancer. She was told she had brain tumor. She had surgery.

She’s been cancer-free for 13 years now. And she officially celebrates the day every Oct. 5.

Actually, she celebrates life every day by running as she strives to keep getting better, to keep getting closer to the level that’ll earn her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team some day.

“It was always a goal from high school,” she says of her Olympic aspirations, which now keep her focused on the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. “I had surgery when I was a freshman … and then as soon as I started running again, that was what I wanted to do.”

As a college runner, Hanscom had a solid career, posting the school’s fifth-best time in the 5,000 and conference-qualifying marks in four other events.

Injuries, though, took their toll on her. She qualified for nationals as both a junior and a senior but wasn’t able to compete either year.

“I’d always get injured,” she says, pointing to her hamstring as the problem. “I would strain it at the end of (the) indoor (season) and then I would not run for two weeks and then coach would throw me in a 10K and I’d make it through 10, 15 laps and something would pop and it’d pop the rest of the race and not run for two weeks.”

This process repeated it itself.

“Pretty much my last two outdoor seasons were very disappointing,” she says.

But Hanscom refuses to give up, refuses to feel sorry for herself.

“I have learned that how you look at a situation, including your health, with either positive or negative energy will directly affect the outcome,” she told Fast-women.com in 2004.

Which is why it comes as no surprise to Daniels that Hanscom is well-suited to endure — and excel — in racing 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon.

“People who are that type of person tend to be very, very strong mentally,” he says. “They just look at the marathon as a race. … I think people like Heather look at it as her distance.”

“Her best event is clearly the marathon. She’s a better runner the farther it gets.”

So has her determination as a runner improved because of her numerous setbacks?

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Daniels says. “People go through something like that … (and) they want every day to count. I’m sure she’s made that kind of commitment to herself.”

Hanscom, an outgoing, smiling conversationalist during our interview, agreed.

“Definitely it made me probably a little more motivated,” she says, “but I’d also say more than that it’s made me appreciate things a little more.

“Running is like my thanksgiving. I’m alive today I get to run. That’s my thanksgiving, but it’s not the only thing. My family is way more important to me than running. They support me and my dreams, so it works out well.”

Establishing the Iraqi Softball League

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 1, 2003

Flagstaff soldiers play ball in Iraq

By Ed Odeven

Baseball may be America’s pastime. But for a group of Flagstaff soldiers deployed in Iraq, playing softball is a way to pass time while feeling connected to their hometown.

Arizona Army National Guard soldiers from the 220th Transportation Co., including Staff Sgt. Armando Gonzalez, Spc. Lorenzo Apodaca, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Casados and Staff Sgt. Rudy Almendarez, play in the Iraqi Softball League, which was formed in May by the Flagstaff residents.

The first game was held May 3 between Team Arizona and Puerto Rico. The Arizonans were victorious, 15-5. The league features six teams: two Arizona teams from the 220th Co. and national guard squads from Puerto Rico, Alabama, Nebraska and Kentucky. According to Gonzalez, who sent a letter to the Daily Sun sports department from the City of Ur, Tallil Airbase in Iraq, the Republic of Korea also planned to field a team.

So, you’re probably wondering how did this league get established?

“It started one afternoon in late April when a solider from the 220th Transportation Co. from Flagstaff went to the 456 Quartermaster Company from Puerto Rico to pick up supplies,” Gonzalez wrote. “While there he noticed that there was some softball equipment lying around. He asked the Puerto Rican solider if they play softball and the Puerto Rican responded: ‘Do you know anybody who thinks that they could play? Let us know.’

“At that point, it was on.”

After all, playing softball is in their blood. It’s what these guys do every year. Or as Gonzalez wrote, “For soldiers like SSG Gonzalez, SSG Almendarez and SFC Casados, it would have been the first season (in the Flagstaff Parks and Rec Softball League) they would have missed in 20 years.”

Here’s where a little ingenuity paid off.

After finding an empty field near their company quarters, Casados, who works for the city of Flagstaff Engineering Department, made contact with the 92nd Engineers Battalion. That battalion cleared the field under the watchful eye of Casados. Almendarez, a city of Flagstaff Environmental Services Department employee, Gonzalez went to an old Iraqi junkyard to locate items to clear and get the ballfield ready.

What followed was a task that required much caution.

“When constructing the field a lot of care had to be taken because it was previously a site that had been bombed by the U.S. bombers,” Gonzalez wrote. “Nearby there was a bunker that had been hit by a Bunker bust bomb. Luckily, there was no ordinance found on the field.

“They then filled sandbags to use for bases. Within days they had a field constructed. After the field was completed, it was named Iraqi One Ballpark.”

Casados is a well-known name in the Flagstaff Softball A-League. His father Danny Casados coaches an American Legion softball team. His brother Joe Casados plays on an American Legion squad.

“Being able to play ball has made time away from home faster,” Daniel Casados said in the letter. “It’s been great to play with friends that I have played with and against.”

Almendarez, meanwhile, regretted that he didn’t bring his glove, bat and other equipment overseas.

“I should have known that going anywhere with Daniel and Armando, that we were going to find a softball game,” Almendarez said. “I just didn’t think that being deployed in Iraq that we would have found a team to play.”

Gonzalez, an Arizona Department of Corrections parole officer who plans to devote more time to his grandchildren after returning to Flagstaff, said the 220th Co. delivers supplies throughout Southern Iraq for 6 1/2 days each week.

Thus, the soldiers truly treasure their leisure time.

“For one-half day a week, all the players make an attempt to make it back to the base camp so they could participate in the softball game,” Gonzalez wrote. “I would rather be playing in the city league where it’s cooler; here sometimes it gets to (be) 120 degrees. But we have to make do with what we got.”