Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

My Mentor

Well over thirty years ago, I sat in my high school music class pondering the meaning of why I was there. I had my whole life ahead of me and didn’t know better. I didn’t know better because prior to that, I’d gotten into heaps of trouble with the schools I had attended but not enough to constitute a criminal record. Thank goodness. Had I not smartened up, I’m sure I would have ended up on the street somewhere doing who knows what.

Definition of a mentor.
Definition of a mentor.

I had help. My high school music teacher was one of my mentors throughout the length of my stay there at the insane asylum. He was a bulk of a man, tree stumps for arms and a thick neck. He also was Romanian. Not that it mattered to other students, but it mattered to me, considering I had a huge crush on gymnast Nadia Comaneci at the time, and he came from the same area of Romania she did. So naturally, I gravitated toward his instruction and put him on a pedestal.

His name doesn’t matter either. Suffice it to know he influenced me in ways that even today bewilders me. “Hey, so-and-so used to say that,” I would say to myself whenever I’d do something he would have approved.

His approach to life was a simple one—be the best you can be without being a goof about it. His words. If you expected something dramatic, that’s as dramatic as it got. His intention was to instill courage into every student, and never to be afraid of making a difference in the world.

Before becoming a teacher, he escaped communism from which he experienced firsthand the persecution of his family by those less intelligent than he. When he immigrated to Canada, his goal was to live a peaceable life. Eventually, his reputation as a perfectionist in the field of music preceded him and my future high school offered him a position as a teacher.

Students like me flocked to his classes simply from word of mouth. They were not easy classes to get into, and they were not what anyone expected. His philosophy of marrying music with life lessons made him the most popular teacher in the school. The courses were worth an extra half credit for those lucky enough to have him accept their entrance application.

From the onset of taking one of his classes, he made it plain that students who did not give one hundred percent of their attitude toward the class would not pass. To him, skill wasn’t what mattered. It was attitude. He used to say

“You can teach an ape to do anything, but it is very difficult to teach attitude to a human.”

Many kids came and went through his doors. Those with problems, he personally helped with encouraging words. I landed on the student council believing I was capable of more than what I had shown him.

After graduating high school, I visited my music teacher several times to see how he was doing. He was his cranky old self, teasing his students to sit up straight, and pay attention while I distracted him with simple stories of my effort with living a peaceable life.

Eventually though, we lost touch. However, by that time, I didn’t consider him a mentor anymore but a friend.

I miss my friend.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Have you had a mentor in life? What ever became of them? What do you think of the mentoring others for their betterment?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Torrance Shipman

When I hear people say, “Oh, she’s only a cheerleader.” I say, “Yeah, can you perform a front handspring, step out, round off back handspring, step out, round off back handspring, full twisting layout?” That’s when the glazed look falls on their face. Torrance can. I wouldn’t have her performing full twisting layouts on Women Who Wow Wednesday otherwise.

Kirsten Dunst as Torrance Shipman
Kirsten Dunst as Torrance Shipman

Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) is up for captain of the Rancho Carne High School cheerleading squad in San Diego, California. We’re talking about the premier five-time national champions. Big Red, the current leader, is retiring. After a quick vote, Torrance clinches control and her first order of business is to assert her ascent to the throne. The dreaded words Wolf Wall fly from her mouth and everyone groans. Up they go, building one of the most fearsome pyramids in cheerleading. A few failed attempts doesn’t deter Torrance. She wants it. One last time and they make it, but in the air, the squad swivels, tilts, and shakes until Carver, their lead cheerleader, slips to her demise.

Les: You know, everyone’s saying that your ambition broke Carver’s leg.
Torrance Shipman: When really it was the angle in which she slammed into the ground.

Nothing will hold Torrance back from achieving a sixth national win.

Bring It On's Torrance Shipman
Bring It On’s Torrance Shipman

Bring It On is one of those movies that doesn’t have much of a plot, but it sure has a lot of heart. Spawning four sequels, whenever I need a good jolt of can-do attitude, I pop this into my player, sit back and let the positive vibes fill my soul.

Without giving too much away, Torrance’s challenge is keeping the team together after Big Red’s departure. This means quashing the rebellious takeover plans of two of the Rancho Carne Toros’ wannabe bosses and keeping everyone happy after a major revelation nearly disintegrates their chances at the Nationals.

Did you know that cheerleading accounts for almost two-thirds of all catastrophic sports injuries among high school girls? Imagine the enormous pressure on Torrance’s shoulders after Carver’s accident. Any ordinary person would have said buh-bye. Not Torrance.

Among the best attributes in Torrance’s character is her unwillingness to quit. No matter what gets in her way, she seems to thrive on overcoming obstacles. Her determination of wanting to remain the best causes her team to rise to new challenges, explore new ideas, and work harder than ever in order to attain perfection. She’s not one to take it in the chin and lie down. She a fighter. And fighters tend to go the distance, even if they are cheerleaders.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you seen Bring It On? What did you think of Torrance? Did you like how she led the team in spite of the failures?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Haley Graham

Who? Yeah, that’s what I was hoping you’d ask. Haley Graham, super-pumped female gymnast who blows away the competition with genius tricks and phenomenal backbone. Keeping it real, she and her crew take no prisoners. Today, she’s burning treads on Women Who Wow Wednesday.

Haley Graham
Haley Graham

You say you haven’t seen Stick It? There’s no excuse. Get it. The girls in the film are those who zombies would fear. They wouldn’t even need shotguns. All they’d need is a pair of leos to bust some bones. With gymnastics described more as a car race, you’ll love the lingo:

Burt Vickerman: You’re popping your clutch, losing traction.
Haley Graham: I’m not popping [censored]
Burt Vickerman: Are you sure?
Haley Graham: I’m so sure I’m practically deodorant.

Haley Graham (played by Canadian actress Missy Peregrym) gets caught busting up a new model home with her bike. The judge gives her a choice: boot camp or VGA. No way is she goin’ to VGA. Boot camp. The judge begs to differ. VGA it is.

Missy Peregrym as Haley Graham
Missy Peregrym as Haley Graham

VGA—The Vickerman Gymnastics Academy—notorious for turning little girls into elite gymnasts at the cost of injuries. What did Haley get herself into? There are over 2000 navy seals in the U.S. There are only 200 elite gymnasts. The price? Six-hour days training tricks that could kill you.

Haley’s philosophy is simple: “If you’re gonna eat mat, you eat mat hard.” And why not? If you’re going to do something, you do it to win. No half-hearted attempts. No one remembers second best. But Vickerman (Jeff Bridges), coach extraordinaire, doesn’t want Haley eatin’ mat. He asks, “Are you gonna learn to control your tricks or do we need to have an ambulance on call?” As if Haley would respond to a rational argument, “Call ‘em up.”

And what does she think of her training with Vickerman?

Gymnastics tells you no. All day long. It mocks you over and over again. Telling you you’re an idiot. That you’re crazy. If you like running full-speed towards a stationary object, vault’s for you. If you like pealing pieces of skin the size of quarters off your hands, bars is for you. If you like falling, then gymnastics is the sport for you! You get to fall on your face. Your ass. Your back. Your knees. And your pride! It’s a good thing I didn’t like falling… I LOVED IT!

Training
Training

Her fire for perseverance and thunder for winning infects the entire team with wild results. Pretty soon, the other girls are popping their clutch.

Defiance
Defiance

Yet Haley’s not all about Haley. When one of her teammates gets trashed by the judges ‘cause her bra strap is showing, Haley’s defiance proves incendiary with the other gymnasts. Screaming full speed toward the vault, she stops short of busting her trick, pops on the apparatus, exposes her bra straps, and purposely scratches on her attempt.

Burt Vickerman: Wait. Next time you should stick your tongue out too.
Haley Graham: I would, but my coach likes it when I control my tricks.

Haley’s move gives the gold to her teammate since all the other gymnasts scratched on all their vault attempts as well.

The VGA Team
The VGA Team

That’s what Haley’s all about, not to prove she’s the best, but sticking it so the team would be the true winner in the end.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you ever sacrificed something you wanted for the good of someone or something else?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Gymnastics

I love the sport of gymnastics. It’s one of the most difficult sports to master. And as such, since this is my Freedom Friday post, I thought I’d write about my favorite sport.

Nadia Comaneci
Nadia Comaneci

Growing up, I had such an intense crush on 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci. For those who don’t know her, as a Romanian gymnast she won three gold medals in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, and two golds in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

Let me tell you something about those wins in Montreal.

She had just finished her routine on the uneven bars and the crowd waited for her score. The judges didn’t know how to rate her performance, so the board lit up with the number 1.00. Back then, the judges could score a routine between 0.00 and 10.00. The crowd’s natural reaction was shock. A flawless performance and she only gets a 1.00? That is, until a great outburst of applause rushed through the venue. The judges did not score her a 1.00 but a perfect 10.00!

Omega SA, the official scoreboard manufacturer for the Games, had only supplied scoreboards capable of displaying 9.99 and nothing more because they’d understood no one could achieve a perfect score.

Nadia went on to score six additional perfect tens at those Games. I remember seeing her perform and she captured my heart. How could such a diminutive girl twirl so much, jump so far and fly so high?

Nadia on the Beam
Nadia on the Beam

I followed her career throughout the late Seventies, early Eighties. Between 1975-1981, she went on to win twenty-one gold, seven silver and two bronze medals in two Olympic Games, two World Championships, three European Championships, and the 1981 Summer University Games.

What an incredible feat for a girl at such a young age!

Once she retired, I found my love for the sport had not diminished. I followed all the up-and-coming gymnasts—this time as a true fan of the sport. I tuned into all the meets, got to know which countries had the strongest gymnasts and followed them. I familiarized myself with all the terms: Hand guard, apparatus, deduction, high bar, mat, junior, senior, element group requirements, chalk, balance, all-around, elite, clubs, somersault, roll, straddle, vault, kip, pike, layout, front tuck, dismount, cartwheel, etc. All of it.

Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton

I’ll never forget watching Mary Lou Retton score her perfect tens in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. That night, my parents had gone out leaving me home alone to watch TV. All I could do was sit at the edge of my seat. Retton had to beat Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo, who led the all-around by fifteen-hundredths of a point. With two events to go, she hit the mat. She twirled, somersaulted, smiled and danced her way into the hearts of Americans. The judges were sure: A perfect ten. Next, came the vault. She nailed it, grabbing another perfect ten. Retton won against her rival by 0.05 points.

Another incredible feat for a girl at such a young age!

Mary Lou Retton, 1984 Olympic All-Around Champion
Mary Lou Retton, 1984 Olympic All-Around Champion

As the years pass, gymnasts come and go. I make it a point to watch the Olympics every time. Although my first love may have faded some for the sport, I’ve kept the tradition alive. Not an Olympics has passed that I do not know who the gymnasts are. And every four years there’s a surprise. A twisted ankle. A daunting fall. And every four years there’s a gymnast who overcomes every obstacle to become a new hero to the ordinary folk.

I love gymnastics. It’s my favorite sport.

Have you seen gymnasts rise to the occasion and win a gold at the Olympics? Are there heroes in gymnastics you admire for their sheer willpower of never giving in to defeat?