Tuesday, March 26, 2019

LIFTING OFF WITH ANNE McCLAIN


I gave up cheering for professional sports teams when I was 16-years-old. I just felt the
time and energy rooting for jerseys could be better served in another capacity. I truly
respected the athleticism and accomplishments of the players, but the wins and losses
didn't matter much to me, mainly because, well, they were not my wins and losses.

And during my career playing and covering sports, I wasn't much into hero worshipping.
I was of the belief that big stars put their pants on just like everyone else: one leg at a time. 

I have met Michael, interviewed Lebron one-on-one, and shared a scene with Kevin Costner
in the movie, "Bull Durham" - and never thought it was a big deal. I've only had one, "Holy
Sh%t, OMG" moment in the presence of another person when I had a chance meeting with
Ted Williams in the batting cages at the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox where
I was a minor-league catcher. 

In the spring of 1988, the greatest hitter who has ever lived was giving me one-on-one instruction
on the art of hitting. At 6'4", Williams was a towering man with a booming voice. I said to
myself, "This has to be God in disguise." Williams talked to me for about 15 minutes and
I'm not sure I remembered a thing he had to say. I was in awe of him. But it wasn't just


the Hall of Fame accomplishments that moved me. The man was a true American hero, having
served not one but two tours of duty in the military. I vividly remembered a picture of him
in his fighter plane and it blitzed through my mind when he was talking to me. Williams flew
39 missions in the Korean War. Incredible.

Some 30 years later, I experienced that same feeling of awe. Last June, I was assigned
to produce a feature on astronaut Anne McClain at NASA in Houston. First of all, being
at the space center was akin to being on the hallowed grounds of  old Yankee Stadium.
It wreaked of history and there was little doubt it was truly something special.

When I was doing my research on McClain, I had several, "Holy Sh%t, OMG" moments.
Her lists of accomplishments were beyond incredible.

*West Point graduate earning a degree in mechanical engineering.
*University of Bath (United Kingdom) Master's degree in aerospace engineering.
*Master's degree in international security from the University of Bristol (UK)
*Played for USA Rugby, a national team.

But the part that made my jaw drop was this:

McClain qualified to be a Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot and was deployed to the Gulf
where she flew 1600 hours and 216 combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

216 combat missions!



Are. You. Kidding. Me?

I have tremendous respect for anyone who spends a day in battle, much less 216 combat
missions flying an attack helicopter. Absolutely amazing.

After her service in Iraq and qualifying as a flight instructor, McClain beat out 8,000 other
candidates for a spot in  NASA's astronaut training program which she completed in 2015.

Yes, there are high-achievers, and then there is Anne McClain.

I thought about her incredible background when I spoke with her on the deck of the training
pool at NASA. In many ways, it was like listening to Ted Williams talk about hitting. She, like
Williams, is an American hero - someone who served the country by fighting in a real war.
To me, it doesn't get much bigger than that. It was an honor to talk with her, especially when
she was wearing her astronaut suit and helmet.

I mean, how many times, do you get to interview an astronaut in their space suit on the
deck at the NASA Space Center? I knew how lucky I was in the moment.


And I was in awe of Anne McClain.

McClain lifted off from Russia with two other astronauts last December. It fulfilled a dream
for McClain, who said she wanted to be an astronaut since she was 4-years-old. Talk about
knowing what you want and getting after it. She outlined everything she had to do to get in
position to be an astronaut and accomplished them all.

I've been following McClain's mission at the International Space Station which ends in June.
The pictures are truly incredible, the accomplishment - even greater.


I faced a dilemma before that trip to Houston. I had the chance to go to North Carolina to
attend the 30th anniversary of "Bull Durham", the movie that became an important part of my
life and the people who were going to be there were pretty special to me.

But I felt going to NASA to interview an astronaut was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Re-hashing all the memories from the movie could wait for another time.

I made the right decision. Anne McClain is a true American hero and there just aren't very
many of them in our society today.




Sunday, February 10, 2019

WHY I QUIT DRINKING: PART II


Just over a year ago, I put my thoughts into words and cemented the story of going five
years without alcohol. In this social media-driven world we live in, where people only
seem to have time to read 140 characters or less, I knew there was a chance a lot may be
lost in translation, or in this case, a headline.

I wrangled with putting together a headline knowing full well that most people think they
know what's in the body of the story by just reading the headline. The one I decided on was
pretty simple and to the point: Five Years Dry: Why I Quit Drinking.

Just as I surmised, though, there were many people who just read the headline,
particularly the 'Why I Quit Drinking' part and felt like the knew what the reason was
without bothering to read the the body of the story.

I got a few, "Hey, congrats, I was in 'the program, too.' (I wasn't)
There was the, "Hey, I didn't know you had a problem. (I didn't)
And several people chimed in with the obligatory, "I hope everything's all right.' (It is).

As I sit here after going through another alcohol-free year, running my streak of days
without any kind of booze to 2,190 days, I had to drop the most common and over-used
response in social media today in response to those comments by my friends: LOL.

Man, people read a headline and the imaginations run wild. Sorry, my story about giving
up alcohol is quite boring. There wasn't a seminal moment or life-altering experience that
forced me to give up drinking. Six years ago of February 10th, I just didn't feel like I was
the best version of myself. I didn't feel all that great and didn't feel like I was in the
physical shape I wanted to be in heading into my 50th year on the planet.

So, I decided to give up alcohol and just about anything that wasn't good for the body human.
The Lenten season was coming up on the calendar so I challenged myself to give up alcohol,
bread, butter, cookies, candy, and ice cream for six weeks. I accomplished my goal with little
problem so I decided to see how long I could give up alcohol. Six years later, here I am.

I don't want alcohol. Don't need alcohol. And don't care if I don't have it again in my lifetime.
I don't care what people think and don't care about being 'social.' I just believe that drinking
is the single biggest waste of time, energy, and money in our society today. Yeah, it's even
more useless than spending time playing Fortnight.

I don't make judgements about other people and their drinking habits. To each their own. We
are free to live our lives any way we choose. However, I do offer advice when friends of mine
want me to talk to their kids about drinking. And it's easy. I tell them the sooner they figure
out that alcohol is poison to the mind, body, soul, and wallet, the better off they'll be.

Drinking even a couple of beers affects every single organ in your body. Liver, heart, brain -
name an organ and alcohol will eventually destroy it. In the last six years without alcohol, I have been sick just once - a bad case of bronchitis which wasn't enough to keep me from going to
work. A lot of luck is involved, I know, but alcohol weakens the immune system, too. I
want to make sure that as I grow older that I'm not polluting my body with toxic waste. That's
what alcohol is: toxic and a waste of everything.

Life is better without alcohol. Way better. As boring as it may be, that's my story and I'm
sticking to it.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

DEAR IRONMAN: DROP THE 'SPECIAL NEEDS' BAGS


Dear Ironman:

I've thoroughly enjoyed the five Ironman events I've completed. From Boulder to Lake
Placid to Mont-Tremblant,  the events were well-organized and well-run, making for a truly
memorable experience.

There's not much you can do about the pain one endures over the course of an 140-mile event,
but when it's all said and done, there is nothing quite like hearing Mike Reilly say, "You are
an Ironman" as competitors cross the finish line. It's a nice touch for an incredible event.

However, I really believe there is one thing the Ironman can do without: calling the bags
we use during the race "special needs" ones. Whenever I hear volunteers at check-in say,
"These are your "special needs bags",  I cringe. It just doesn't sound right. In fact, it sounds
 awful. The "special needs" bags in an Ironman event are used by competitors to put their
'goodies' in to help them get through the race. Power Bars, gels, goos, Swedish fish, aspirin,
band-aids, socks, Vaseline, sandwiches - if it can get a competitor through the endurance race,
chances are it will be in the "special needs" bag.



When I hear "special needs", I think about what most people do: those special kids who are
sometimes referred to as ones with "special needs." They are ones who need a little (or a lot) of
help just to get through the day.

Wikipedia defines special needs as people with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome,
dyslexia, blindness, ADHD, and cystic fibrosis. However, there are a lot of children born
with many other things that make them children with special needs.

When I hear someone talk about those "special needs" bags at an Ironman event, I feel
uncomfortable. If I was a parent of a child with special needs, I would certainly find it, um,
awkward, if not offensive. It's just not right and I think the Ironman franchise should find
a way to change the name of the bags.  Call them Fuel and Recovery bags, but please don't
call them "special needs" bags. Call them S.O.S bags - anything but 'special needs' bags.


Major League Baseball recently made a big change when it came to how they described 
the list where injured players land. Almost since its inception, baseball had a "disabled list." 
Because of their sensitivity to others, it will simply be called the "injured list"

"The principal concern is that using the term "disabled for players who are injured supports the
misconception that people with disabilities are injured and therefore not able to participate or
compete in sports," said Jeff Pfeifer, MLB's senior director of league economics and operations.

Despite the change being long overdue, it was a great move by Major League Baseball. 

There is nothing special about those bags,  But there is certainly a lot that is special about
the kids who have to overcome a lot just to get through the day. Same goes for the parents.
It is extremely tough, both mentally and physically, for the parents and kids with 'special
needs' to deal with the cards they've been dealt. It's heart-wrenching for those who watch
them try to overcome the challenges they face every single day, 24/7.

When I'm swimming 2.4 miles in a beautiful lake or riding 112-miles on courses with
spectacular scenery, I find myself counting my blessing on just how lucky I am to compete
in an Ironman event, especially in my mid-50's. I am thankful that I'm able to run, bike, and
swim and enjoy everything an Ironman event has to offer.

I just don't like to see "special needs" slapped across the bags that contain fuel and
recovery items. I don't think it qualifies as being in good taste. Competitors really are not
special. Special should be used on those kids who didn't have luck on their side when they
came into this world. They are the ones who have incredible character and tremendous will.

The "special needs" bags need to go away in the Ironman events. Call them Fuel and Recovery
bags. The "special" part needs to always be used when describing those special little kids.

Thank you.

Paul Devlin

Friday, November 23, 2018

THANKFUL FOR COOP AND JPM


Family, friends, health, a good job - I have a lot to be thankful for. However, during this
holiday season, I'm especially thankful for two people who recently passed away:
Jason Cooper and John Martin. They were two special human beings who touched a lot of
lives and a made the world a better place with their kindness, friendship, and ability to get
along with, and make others feel welcome, no matter the walk of life they came from.

Cooper, 52, and Martin, 50, died within three months of each other. Cooper, who was
raised in New Canaan, CT., had a massive heart attack while Martin passed away after a
two-year battle with ALS. They were both universally loved for their character and respected
for their great talent in their respective vocations.


Cooper was a modern day Paul Bunyan -  a mountain of a man who was country
boy strong. At 6'4, 250lbs, he could get out of bed, put 315 pounds on the bench, and easily
dial up 10 reps and say, "What else you got?" He was an extraordinarily gifted athlete with a
resume that included being a four-year starter as a tight end at Duke University AND being
an impact player on the lacrosse team. In this day and age, the millennials call that
"a major stud."

As great an athlete as Cooper was, he was a better person. And that's not hyperbole or cliché.
A former football teammate of mine at New Canaan High School, Cooper was humble, gracious,
and always interested in the well-being of others. And he was a magnet - attracting everyone
within his area code and beyond. If anyone ever had a reason to brag and say, "Well, I did
this...", it was Coop. The football gods seemingly poured him into a uniform and said,
"This is what an athlete should look like." But Cooper, who came home from Chicago to
coach high school football after a long career in finance, never bragged or talked about
himself - ever.He'd rather ask  about others and see how they were doing than wax poetic
about his accomplishments.  It's one of things that made Jason Cooper great.


Martin, who worked as a videographer at NESN covering the Boston sports landscape, was
talented as well, garnering five Emmy-awards for his work documenting the Red Sox,
Bruins, Patriots, and Celtics. We worked together for two years, traveling the country
covering the Patriots and their dynasty. There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments
and memories to last a lifetime. Martin's lifetime was far too short, but he squeezed more
into it than most people could only dream of doing.


Martin, like Cooper, didn't have a circle of friends - he had a magnificent cavalry.
EVERYBODY loved Martin. You'd have to search far and wide to find someone to say
something bad about him - and if you did, rest assured, they'd be lying. In the
petty, jealous, and backstabbing world of television, JPM, as he was known by his friends,
had the uncanny ability to get along with everybody. Martin had such a great way about
him - always friendly and always genuinely caring about the lives of others. He had the
special gift of making you feel like he was your best friend - even if that was far from
being the case. JPM was simply amazing and you could say he had a million "best friends."


I am thankful for the lessons Martin gave us not only in the art of friendship, but during
his battle with ALS. There are terrible diseases, then there is ALS. It is brutal. It is vicious
It is unfair. JPM didn't deserve it. Nobody does. But he battled courageously and never gave
in to the disease. He wrote not one, but two books - the second focusing on his fight against
a disease that has never lost. During the darkest of days, Martin's flashed a smile that
could light up the entire city of Boston. He was a true warrior,  but more importantly, a
true friend to so many people.

Life moves too fast these days and we always seem to be in a hurry to move on from
things. We often obsess over trivial stuff and don't appreciate gifts that are truly important.
I will always appreciate and be thankful for the friendship of Coop and JPM and the lessons
they taught us. I won't soon forget about it and I don't think their large cavalry of friends will ever forget about it, either.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

ABOUT THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON...


Five boroughs. 26.2 miles. 52,000 runners. That is the New York City Marathon - at least
by the numbers. But the race around the world's greatest city is about much more than just
stats - which is what we seemingly measure everything by in sports these days. Sports has
become an analytic-driven landscape drowning with superfluous numbers, launch angles,
spin rates, and just about anything else spit out by an algorithm.

You can clock the time it takes you to finish a marathon, but there aren't any metrics that
can accurately measure the energy, heart, adrenaline, sweat, pain, exhaustion, and elation
from a journey that starts in Staten Island and finishes in Central Park, one of the best
pieces of real estate this country has ever seen.

Of all the marathons in the world, the start to the New York City Marathon has to be the
greatest of them all. It begins with the Verrazzano Bridge staring you in the face. It's a
spectacular double-decked suspension bridge that just towers over the field, making everyone
seem so remarkably small. And how many times do you get to run over  a bridge with 50,000
other people with a crystal-clear line of sight to the soul of New York City?  It is truly
breathtaking.


So, of course, in this social media obsessed world we live in, a scene like that has to be
documented. As I ran to the crest of the bridge, I started to laugh out loud. About 40 people
formed a line on the near four-foot high wall separating the lanes of the bridge - all of them
taking selfies. And they were loving it. I think the only reason many of them entered the
race was just to get that 'money' shot so they could post it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I chose not to scale the divider, my 54 years on earth telling me it was a bad idea - a pulled
muscle or turned ankle wouldn't help in trying to finish a race that had barely even started.
However, I did snap a selfie just to capture the moment.


The moment didn't last long - not with 26 miles ahead of me. Having received an entry
on August 20th,  I was a bit undertrained for the endurance event. Trying to
stuff a lot of miles in a 10-week period wasn't ideal and I paid for it with injuries to
my calf and knee. But I did get to the starting line healthy and that is the most important
thing. I relied on my experience of running this event five years earlier and the energy
boost from the people who lined the streets cheering the runners on. It seemed like every
inch of the course was soaked with a crowd that was ten people deep. It was deafening and
electric. You couldn't help but be energized by it.

The things you see and hear during the NYC Marathon can stick with you for a long time.
I came upon a few blind runners with guides leading them the entire way. With
my eyes and mind firmly focused on what was in front of me, there were times I'd
hear a unique sound pounding the pavement only to look up and see carbon-fiber blades
attached to an amputee working his way to completing his goal - the picture of courage
and the resiliency few of us will ever possess.


My plan going into the marathon was just to soak up the entire experience - even the
mind-numbing pain that goes with trying to complete the race. I've done five Ironman
events, so I've become quite familiar with everything that goes with something like this.
As I went through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan, I was thoroughly focused
but had a mile-wide grin washed across my face. This was truly awesome as it was a
celebration of many things in my life.

I was thankful for just being able to run the race. I've put a lot of miles on this 54-year-old
body over the years and know how fortunate I am to be healthy enough to do it. People asked me
why I was running such a race. Why do you want to endure so much pain? My answer was
simple: why the hell not? The New York City Marathon is so big and just so special. To be
part of something that is way bigger than you is an adrenaline rush that few people get the
chance to experience.

I was not only running for myself, but in honor of John Martin, who passed away just three
weeks before the race. We worked together for two years at NESN, covering the Boston sports landscape together. He was a really, really special person who affected a lot of lives, mine
included. Martin showed the heart of lion while he battled ALS, showing tremendous courage fighting a disease that never loses. I created merchandise to help raise money for the family and
to help tell the story of this great man. I was proud to wear the Café Martin brand on my journey
through New York City. I was inspired by John and the people who screamed, "Café Martin!
Café Martin!",  pushed me along the way.


I reached the halfway point at 1:59 and felt good about the pace that I was on before losing
some steam. There were a few internal battles during the last five miles of the race. My body
wanted to stop but my mind said keep on going. I read many posts on social media from runners
who didn't achieve their goal of establishing a new personal record. There were lame excuses
and insufferable complaints. Sadly, many of them missed out on the big picture, choosing
instead to focus on their time of the race rather than the time they had in the race

I have no excuses and no regrets. This race was a celebration of life and everything good
about it. A 26.2 mile race on a drop-dead gorgeous kind of day in the greatest, most electric
city in the world is forever etched in my mind, heart, and soul.


I finished in 4:21 which is just another number that will be attached to my name on the Internet
forever. It's kind of like the age that follows a name in an obituary, though. It only indicates
how long someone lived, but says nothing about their journey through life.

My journey in the 2018 New York City Marathon was simply awesome and something I will
never forget. Ever.









Monday, November 12, 2018

ONE DAY FOR VETERANS IS NOT ENOUGH


The nation honors all those who served our country fighting wars with their own special
day. We pay tribute to the men and woman who put their lives on the line against faceless
enemies in countries far, far away. There will be a few parades and a lot of pictures
flooding Facebook of the American flag and our heroes who did so much for us. They
helped attain what we all enjoy today: freedom.

It's not enough.

For all the bravery, courage, determination, and sacrifice these veterans made, giving
them a day pales in comparison to what they truly deserve. And how our government
treats them is downright right embarrassing.

A 'thank you' will not do.

These men and woman leave the comforts of their home and the love of their families to
spill blood and sweat on foreign soil. What they return to is almost beyond comprehension.
Soldiers who had limbs blown off, their spirits shaken, and in many cases, their psyche
shattered forever, often have to wait long periods of time to get the benefits they earned
and the professional help they desperately need.

Instead of letting them go to the front of the line and take care of them immediately,
our government sometimes doesn't take care of them at all. Our presidents may give
them a pat on the back or weave together a few words of praise, but when the cameras
are off it becomes something barely more than a, "hey, good job, thanks for playing."

According to CNN, the average wait for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to
get their benefits is between 316 and 327 days. Almost a year!  That's absurd. All
the money the government spends keeping Guantanamo Bay open for terrorist
prisoners ($450 million a year) would be better served taking care of our own instead
of all the ones who tried to destroy our country.

Sadly, it seems a good majority of our country has more compassion for immigrants
trying to get into the United States illegally, than the men and women who actually fought
to protect it.

After the soldiers return home, turn in their weapons while trying to tune out the
horrors of wars, there is little waiting for them in terms of a career. They don't have
jobs waiting for them or counseling provided by the government to at least
help them find one.

A few corporations like Wal-Mart have pledged to hire up to a 100,000 veterans, but
it's not enough and the government should be doing a lot more. They ask soldiers
to make tremendous sacrifices, fight for our country, put their lives on the line, and
they don't have their backs when they return home.

Professional sports teams produce special Army fatigue uniforms which they wear
and sell for a nifty profit. The message is a great one: support our troops and veterans.
But what do they actually do for them? They, along with their families, should never
have to pay for parking, concessions, and tickets to the game. That should mandated
across the board by our government

According to a report in the New York Times, there are 22 suicides among veterans
every day. Yes, every day! One is too many. 22 is a terrible tragedy that can be
prevented. These men and woman need help. Sure, you trying going to war for
three years and have to kill or be killed. Is your job that stressful? I think not. These
soldiers have to come home, decompress, and then blend into society as if
nothing happened.

It's silly, absurd, and doesn't really make any sense. The government's motto should
be: "We take care of all those who take care of us." That's how it should
be, no questions asked.

Too bad it all can't be that simple. With our government nothing ever is.

Monday, October 15, 2018

REST IN PEACE, JPM. WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU


John Martin died on Sunday. 

When I read the news of his passing on Facebook, it felt much the same way it did two years 
ago when it was revealed the longtime NESN videographer had ALS: like a wrecking ball 
to the stomach that blew nearly every ounce of oxygen from my body.

It hurt. A lot. That feeling is something that will stay with many of us forever. 

John Martin was an extraordinary human being inflicted with the cruelest of diseases. We all 
know life isn't fair, but this was just brutal. John was the nicest of guys who made everyone
feel like he was their best friend. And he had a ton of friends - far too many to even bother to 
count. 

JPM, as he was known to all his friends, had to battle a disease that has never lost. He knew
what he was facing and did it courageously. He fought hard, he was brave, and he is forever 
one of my heroes.


Martin will always be a hero in a New England community that rallied around him as his
body wore down against ALS. We loved him, admired him, and wanted to do anything we 
could to comfort him during a fight no person should ever have to be in, much less face alone.

His friends made sure JPM didn't have to do that. They were always there for him.The local
teams rallied to support him.  Robert Kraft of the Patriots made the most moving of speeches 
to honor John and his family. The Red Sox raised money for him, as did the Bruins. Celebrities 
and athletes and stopped by Café Martin to bring him some cheer and it seemed like 
the entire region bought a Café Martin hat and posted pictures on social media wearing 
it, as well as great big smiles, hoping to put one on the face of JPM.


There was Eddie Vedder giving Martin a shout out at Fenway Park during a concert and
athletes from all over wearing their Café Martin hats with great pride and purpose.

Everybody loved JPM. You'd have to search the country far and wide to find someone to say
something bad about him - and if you did, I can assure you they are lying. JPM had such a 
wonderful way about him - one that attracted people from all walks of life to him. He always
had time for everyone and usually a great story to go with it. 

I could talk about his great talent as a videographer, but that would just take away from
the person he was. There were few better - anywhere. He was truly loved and had universal
respect. We adored JPM because he loved his job, loved his family, and loved all his friends.
There was nothing artificial about John, even as he worked in a business with a lot of 
disingenuous people. He was a straight shooter who didn't have time for a lot of B.S. JPM
didn't care about celebrity or status and could see through a person and an agenda in a split-
second.

JPM received a lot of love because he gave a lot of love. He coached youth baseball for
nearly 30 years in the not-so-great parts of Boston. He was always there for the hundreds
of kids he coached over the years, making a huge impact on their lives. JPM loved 
baseball and loved  coaching. That showed in his job as a videographer and in his passion 
for helping young kids.


JPM taught us a lot as he battled to hold off death. He kept living his life as an insidious 
disease tore through his body. JPM wrote not one, but two books - the second of which gave us 
an intimate, yet brutal look into the battle he was facing. There were a lot of dark moments,
for sure, but JPM always managed to keep the smile on his face and stay positive. He loved
Adrienne and his beautiful two girls and always had them in his heart.

John's death hurts. It will take a while for us to get over it. There was nobody like JPM. He
had a heart of gold, a mega-watt smile, and a personality that nobody will ever forget. 

We love you JPM. We will never forget you.