Hurray for Keenan!

As most of my friends well know, I am an obsessed Keenan Reynolds super-fan. Keenan is the outgoing senior quarterback for the Navy football team, who racked up killer statistics in his four-year Navy career, with records and statistics impressive not just for a service academy player, but remarkable for any elite NCAA Division 1 player.   He finished fifth in the Heisman voting and I blogged about my extreme disappointment that he was not invited to the ceremony in New York City in What the Heisman Trophy Says About Us

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I am so fanatical about Keenan. Certainly, his is a good underdog story, and we all enjoy the David beating Goliath tales. I also feel a pseudo- (or maybe psycho-) maternal affection for him, since he was my son’s classmate at Navy. (I find myself inexplicably tearing up over news of him, which is both touching and a little weird.)

But it may also be partly due to (my perceived) current shortage of inspirational national leadership. I am usually a political junkie, especially during presidential election years, but I can barely bring myself to follow this election. The news terrifies and depresses me. Instead, following coverage of Keenan Reynolds, who to me represents the good in our country and an example of a healthy role model, has been a welcome distraction. And it is frankly deeply comforting when, sometimes, good things happen to the good guys.

It all started because our son was one class ahead of Keenan at Navy, so we attended the majority of Navy’s home games with Keenan at quarterback. We met many of the players, including Keenan, multiple times at various events. It is easy to develop a maternal-like fondness for Navy players, as they are all such inspiring young men, each with compelling life stories and aspirations. I blogged about my growing obsession in The Basketball Tripleheader: My Life as a Groupie

But even among this impressive group, Keenan stood out as a leader of leaders. I believe he is an example of what we should look for, and nurture, in our leadership:

Humility and Presence

Keenan was given his first start at quarterback as a freshman (highly unusual at Navy), took full advantage of the opportunity, worked his tail off, and never looked back. I probably read or saw every interview featuring Keenan (as previously mentioned, I’m obsessed). As he became more and more successful on the field, I half expected a cockiness or arrogance to emerge. Instead, I watched, incredulously, as he developed steadily and surely from a somewhat reticent teenager (suddenly thrust into the spotlight of leadership) to a humble yet confident, engaging and endlessly impressive young man.

I recently read an interview with Scott Strasemeier (Sports Information Director for Navy), who marveled that Keenan, in his four remarkable years at Navy, has been under intense scrutiny and given countless interviews to the press, and that he has never once made a mistake. Not one flubbed speech or misstatement or missed opportunity to give credit to others. In fact, it was Keenan’s consistent insistence on deflecting praise from himself to his teammates and coaches, to putting the team’s success first, that initially made me such a fan.

Flexibility, tenacity and patience.

I am impressed with how Keenan has handled adversity. He has openly shared that playing in the NFL has always been a dream of his. However, he recognized and accepted that the five-year military commitment required of Navy midshipmen would be a significant hurdle to overcome (although recently there have been allowances made for exceptional athletes to facilitate their professional athletic careers). He stated emphatically that he would be honored to serve his country, pursuant to his own personal commitment, in whatever capacity he was needed, even if that meant never playing football again.

I learned this year that there is something called the NFL Scouting Combine, which is apparently a big try-out for college players. Keenan was not invited. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game in January (another great opportunity to shine for the pro scouts), but as a running back not a quarterback. Despite all his records and success as Navy quarterback, he was deemed too small with too little arm strength for the pros. He later recounted that his father called him, somewhat angry that Keenan was not given a chance at quarterback, but Keenan was grateful for the opportunity to play, in any position. He reportedly wowed the scouts in practice but had to skip the game because of a back strain.

Accepting that the only chance he would have in the pros would be in a position other than quarterback (the position he played his entire life), Keenan worked out as a wide receiver with the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots and attended a pro day with the Baltimore Ravens, and began working with a punt receiver coach. All the while meeting his academic and military obligations at Navy, and consistently deflecting questions about his future and restating his commitment to the needs of the Navy.

Loyalty, Poise and Values

What most impresses me about Keenan, and what I believe is the bedrock of his leadership, is that he lives by a durable set of personal core values. His upbringing with strong, supportive parents, extended family and a faith community has provided him a solid internal and external support system.

A good leader should have exemplary character and must be trustworthy. A good leader “walks the talk” and in doing so earns the right to have responsibility for others. Keenan, as a “plebe” (freshman) quarterback, was put in a position of leadership on the field over others who mostly outranked him off the field. He had the strength of character to lead, not from ego, but through loyalty to his teammates, poise under pressure, an exceptional work ethic, and a selfless drive to make the team and his teammates better. He earned the respect of his teammates.

Good Things Happen to the Good Guys

After four years of watching Keenan blossom at Navy, it has been exciting to now see him recognized on a national level:

  • Even though he didn’t play at the East-West game in January, he was made a unanimous captain for the East team. Also during this game, he won the Pat Tillman Award, which “is presented to a player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service. The award is about a student-athlete’s achievements and conduct, both on and off the field.”

    Keenan's Navy Jersey #19 retired

    Keenan’s Navy Jersey #19 retired (Navy Athletics)

  • On February 28, 2016, the Naval Academy announced that Keenan Reynolds would be the last player to wear No. 19. Besides Keenan, only Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino, and Napolean McCallum have had their numbers retired by the school.
  • Following what I considered a regrettable snub by the Heisman committee last December, I was delighted to see Keenan honored with the James E. Sullivan Award on April 10, 2016. Presented by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), this award is given to “the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.”
    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award

    Winner of the AAU Athlete of the Year Award (

    Past recipients have included Tim Tebow, Michael Phelps and Peyton Manning. Keenan attended the ceremony with his mother and his speech (which of course made me cry) was a model of humility and grace, giving credit to his family, his faith, and his teammates for his success.

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens

    Keenan at a press conference discussing his future with the Ravens (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

  • On Saturday, May 30 (I watched the NFL Draft live on my iPhone, something I have never done and never thought I would) in the 6th round, with the 182nd pick overall, the Baltimore Ravens selected Keenan Reynolds, as a wide receiver. I cried tears of joy as I watched the video feed of Keenan taking the call from the Ravens flanked by his mom, dad, little brother, and teammates.
  • The Secretary of the Navy has recently recommended that Keenan be allowed to play full-time with the Ravens, and that he fulfill his military commitment through the Reserves. The Secretary of the Defense must still approve this recommendation, but by all accounts, it is considered a formality.

I admit I am somewhat torn (as are many in the military community) as to whether Keenan should be allowed to play pro football full-time and immediately, without any active duty service commitment. Part of me would rather have someone of Keenan’s caliber protecting our country (his service selection was cyber-security) as opposed to knocking heads on Sunday. (And what if he gets a concussion? my psycho-mom-self worries.) However, it has been a joy, and an opportune diversion to watch the development and emergence of this fine young man. Wherever he lands, either in the sports world, the military, government, or business, he will be a beacon of light, and it soothes my spirit to know that we are producing the next generation of quality young leaders like Keenan Reynolds. And you bet I’ll be rooting for him on Sundays!

What the Heisman Trophy Says About Us

This past Saturday, the 2015 Heisman Trophy was awarded in New York City. The previous Monday night, I excitedly watched live as the finalists were announced. When only three names were read, and Keenan Reynolds (senior quarterback at Navy) was not one of them, I felt an overwhelming disappointment.

First let me say, congratulations to all three Heisman finalists. They are worthy recipients and I wish not to diminish their accomplishments. Let me also say, I am a lifelong Navy football fan (USNA daughter, wife and mom) so its fair to say I am biased.

Why am I so saddened about this year’s Heisman Trophy? I’ve spent some time reflecting about this. (Believe me, I rarely get worked up about anything sports-related.) I am disappointed because it was an enormous missed opportunity. The Heisman Trust and voters had a chance to boldly look past cultural norms of success (Big Schools, Big Money) to choose someone who clearly embodies the aspirational qualities the Heisman purportedly stands for.

The Heisman Trust Mission Statement reads:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

I hate to single out the Heisman, but the award is emblematic of a larger problem in our culture, where role models are increasingly entertainers and professional athletes, and power and money equate with success, yet we lament the “moral decay” of our society. If we truly value integrity, we must proactively spotlight alternative role models who exemplify exceptional character. I think about some past Heisman winners, who may have been excellent football players and played for top college teams and pursued successful NFL careers, but whose high-profile conduct off the field (played out in the media) exhibited questionable character and choices.  Are they good models of excellence with integrity?

If I were in charge of awarding the Heisman Trophy, I would give it to Keenan Reynolds, a young man who personifies excellence with integrity.

Keenan Reynolds, Navy Quarterback (Navy Athletics)

Keenan Reynolds, Navy Quarterback
(Navy Athletics)

Reynolds deserved serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy based on his football accomplishments alone. In 2015, previously independent Navy joined the American Athletic Conference (amidst high anxiety as to how Navy would fare), and Keenan led the team to a 10-2 record, victories over Air Force and Army (securing the coveted Commander-in-Chief Trophy), and a national ranking of #21. Saturday he became the first quarterback in the history of the Army-Navy series to go 4-0 against its rival. This season, Reynolds received national attention for setting the record (previously held by past Heisman finalist Montee Ball) for most rushing touchdowns in NCAA Division 1 history (85). The list of his records and accomplishments is astounding. See for a more comprehensive review.

More remarkable is the unprecedented impact Reynolds has had on the entire Navy football program, more than any Navy player I can remember. As a four-year starting quarterback (highly unusual at Navy) his mastery of Navy’s complicated triple-option offense is unmatched. This offense capitalizes on quickness and QB decision-making to equalize Navy’s perennial size disadvantage. The triple option requires the QB to make the right split-second decision on every play, and under Keenan, the Navy offense clicked into high gear. The success of the Navy football team under Reynolds’ leadership infused the entire Naval Academy, indeed the entire US Navy, with enormous pride.

His on-the-field accomplishments are particularly extraordinary given that he achieved them as a Midshipman at the Naval Academy. In addition to football, Keenan carried a significant academic load while undergoing rigorous military training. When he graduates from the Academy in May, rather than cashing in on a lucrative NFL contract, he will serve a five-year military commitment in the U.S. Navy. His service assignment is Information Warfare (Cyber security) a highly competitive slot in which 25 physically qualified midshipmen interviewed for five spots.Keenan Reynolds balances football, intense course load

We watched, over the course of his four years at Navy, as Reynolds grew into a true leader of leaders. Since he overlapped three years with our son at USNA, we attended many of his home games and witnessed the excitement he brought to the program. As a senior, he was voted team captain and led by example, on and off the field. I read and watched countless articles and interviews with Keenan, and was always struck by his humble, selfless approach. He consistently deflected individual attention and gave credit to his teammates for every accomplishment. The Navy football team gathered after practice on Monday to watch the Heisman finalist announcement, expecting to celebrate together. They were reportedly “bummed” and stunned that Keenan was not named a finalist. Washington Post

Although only counting as one vote in the overall tabulation, Reynolds won the 2015 Heisman fan vote (partly due to a highly mobilized Navy fan base). Overall, Keenan finished fifth (the highest finish in the Heisman balloting by a Service Academy player since Navy’s Roger Staubach won the award in 1963). According to the Heisman website, between three and eight of the top candidates are invited to New York for the trophy presentation, and these are considered the Heisman Finalists for that year. Presumably because the vote totals dropped significantly after the top three candidates, only three finalists were invited to New York.

Even more disappointing than Heisman voters overlooking this extraordinary young man was the failure of the Heisman Trustees to invite five finalists to New York. Since the Army-Navy football game (in Philadelphia) was the same day as the Heisman Trophy ceremony (in New York), Navy had plans to helicopter Keenan and his family to the ceremony. What an honor, indeed a source of national pride, it would have been to see Reynolds at the ceremony, on national TV, in his Navy service dress blue uniform. Would it have been such a stretch to invite two more finalists to the ceremony?

A Heisman Trophy, even just an invitation to the ceremony, would have meant the world to not only Keenan and his family, but to all the Service Academies and to the men and women serving our country. It would have sent an important message recognizing one of their own as a shimmering example of “the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” I rooted for Keenan Reynolds for the Heisman not only because he’s Navy and deserves the award as a player, but also because he so impressively embodies those qualities we should demand in our role models. Although I am sad for him, I suspect Keenan Reynolds will have a bright future, with or without the Trophy.   What our awards say about us is what makes me most sad.

Move over, Venus and Serena! (Two older ladies are passing on the right)

There’s a new tennis doubles team in town. We’re either the new (or old) Venus and Serena, or a state-of-the-art Lucy and Ethel. Too soon to tell. Last week I started tennis lessons with my friend Patti. But after a 10+ year layoff, it’s clear tennis at age 57 is a whole ‘nother game. And it sure ain’t yoga. One session in, I already have tennis elbow. And until yesterday, every muscle in my body hurt. I even discovered one on the bottom of my foot (I’ve never noticed before) that aches.

It all started a few weeks ago, when Patti called to ask if I would take tennis lessons with her. She was looking for an activity to add to her fitness regimen and decided tennis would be a good choice. She and I were both decent players (and good athletes) when we were younger, so we assumed it would be a fun and (relatively) easy sport to pick up again. We brashly began calling ourselves Serena and Venus, and discussed our future doubles championship career.

To start, we settled on a weekly drop-in hour-long group tennis clinic at the local tennis club with Martin, the dashing Argentine instructor my son had when he was younger. We were told that a maximum of eight people were allowed each session, with usually four or five “chill” women about our age showing up. (As I recalled, Martin attracted mostly women to his classes, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)

Our first day was exhausting. And that was just finding shoes. Patti and I set off around ten last Tuesday morning for DSW and almost immediately found the perfect shoes.   They were cute, super comfy and matching (hers in blue and mine in black). We giddily took photos together and were all set for our purchases when one of us thought to ask whether the shoes, besides looking good, were actually made for tennis. No, our perfect shoes were “cross-trainers” which (1) did not provide the right ankle support (important at our age), and (2) would make marks on the tennis court (possibly getting us thrown out at the club). OK, fine.

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren't made for tennis

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren’t made for tennis

Thus began our grand search for the perfect tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoe. After multiple phone calls, Google searches, two trips to the tennis club and one to Sports Chalet, we each found a comfortable pair of tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoes that were not nearly as adorbs as our DSW shoes.

Our two trips to the club also reminded us of the need for chic tennis clothes (especially knowing the population likely to show up at Martin’s classes). Wanting to look good while not wanting to spend a fortune, we headed to Marshall’s and found some cute, low-cost, little tennis skirts and tops.   We finally stopped for lunch at two.

The day of our first lesson, Thursday at 10 AM, fourteen people showed up. Martin apologized, explaining that it was a freak occurrence and the eight-person maximum would henceforth be strictly enforced. Thank God, I thought, I don’t want to share court time with all these people.

Martin opened with drills. We lined up and returned balls (forehand and backhand) to Martin, who was furiously hitting them at us. We then ran through obstacles on the sidelines and back and forth between opposite sides of the court. I was irrationally ecstatic to be back on the court and I threw myself into the drills with reckless abandon. I hit! I ran! I dove! When I found myself noticeably pooped, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10. Dear Lord, I still had 50 minutes to go. I then said a silent prayer of gratitude for the twelve other people who showed up, giving me longer to rest between shots.

Our first group competition was “Around the World” which involved hitting the ball inbounds and then running as fast as possible to the other side of the court. I actually won that competition, beating an 8-year-old kid in the finals. But that only fueled my delusional self-perception of youthfulness and invincibility.

We ended with some doubles drills, where Patti and I were partners. There was a competitive element (which always spurs me to stupidity) whereby victorious teams were dubbed “queens” or “kings” until knocked off their throne by another team. Fresh off my earlier “Around the World” victory, I took it upon myself to return a shot extremely well hit down the line on my side of the court. My immediate mental calculation had me easily reaching and returning the ball, thereby keeping our royal hopes alive. I lunged for the ball, suddenly realizing my body was not moving in sync with my brain or my calculations, and next thing I knew, my legs buckled and I went down in a heap, the most spectacular wipe-out of the class.   Fortunately, my only injury was to my ego (although I suspect Martin was secretly impressed with my hustle).

The next morning, Patti (who is older than I am, I should add) called to chat about our tennis lesson and what a blast it was. She said she was tired after class, but was not particularly sore. We talked about our lesson next week, and potentially adding some additional practice sessions.

What I didn’t tell Patti was that I was still in bed when she called, and that I could barely move. My right elbow was throbbing, and the thought of playing tennis again made my brain hurt.

Luckily, a few days later, my body has recovered. I returned to Sports Chalet and bought an elbow brace for my arm. And I think I learned a few lessons (other than tennis) last week:

I’m not twenty anymore (or thirty or forty, for that matter). I need to take things a little slower. I don’t need to win all the competitions. Diving for balls and running all out, all the time, is no longer in my best interests. In fact, it’s pretty senseless.

Warm up first. We sat there on the bench waiting for the class before us and then dove right in before warming up. I have thirty sore muscles to prove it.

Watch my form. My dad was my first tennis instructor, and he was a stickler for good form. I’m sure he was turning over in his grave last Thursday watching me make weird awkward shots with no attention to proper form and motion. I’m sure that’s one reason my elbow is already hurting, as sound practice and motion not only enhances my game but puts less stress on my body.

Have fun. In spite of all the follow-up pain, it was a joy getting back on the court. I’m hoping that, with some age-related adjustments to my game (cough, cough), I can continue to play for years to come, (my dad played into his eighties) and that Patti and I will be more Venus and Serena than Lucy and Ethel.

March Madness

A few weeks ago I came home to find my husband working intensely on the computer. I knew he was behind on a few projects that he was having trouble focusing on, so I was glad to see him so locked in.

“Hi! Are you working on the Treasurer’s Report? Or maps for our trip?”

“Nope,” he mumbled, barely looking up, “my bracket.”

Oh, geez, I thought. It’s here again – the NCAA tournament, arguably my husband’s happiest time of year. My usual mild annoyance with the upcoming prospect of 3 straight weeks of nonstop basketball turned to abject terror as I realized I would no longer have the job or the office as my quiet space. With the lucky exception of a silent retreat weekend I booked for myself and a mens retreat he booked for himself, this year I would be living full-time in the thick of March Madness. And what I subsequently witnessed really was a curious form of madness.

My husband's 2014 NCAA bracket

My husband’s 2014 NCAA bracket

Over the next few days my husband consulted websites and churned out spreadsheets and schedules and brackets, placing his annual wager with his brother, with the intensity ratcheted higher by the addition of the Warren Buffet $1 Billion Bracket Challenge.

And then the tournament began. There are something like 46 games played the first few days. I am pretty sure my husband watched most of them. Sometimes he watched one on the TV, another on the computer, another on his iPad. When I walked by the bathroom, I heard a game on an iPhone through the door.

The farther his favorite team (UCLA) advanced in the tournament, the more emotional he became.  After UCLA won their first game against Tulsa, my husband immediately began talking about the Bruins winning the national title, which usually made him misty-eyed just thinking about it. It seemed that several teams from the Pac-12 (his favorite conference) went farther than expected. It was shaping up to be a magnificent tournament!

In order to pace myself, I usually don’t pay much attention until the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight rounds. I enjoy watching a game or two at a time, but not 34. So, when I was home, I spent most of the first week quarantined in the den with plenty of reading material while my husband sat transfixed by the TV. From the other room, I would hear yelling (presumably at the refs or players) or hooting and hollering (probably at a great shot or block or play). It actually made me smile to be witness to this odd form of insane joy. It was rather touching to see my husband so enthralled – like my son used to be with Pokemon or Power Rangers.

I have seen statistics, which in the past I assumed were overblown, demonstrating a downturn in workplace productivity during March Madness. I never paid them much attention since I was apparently part of the minority actually working non-distractedly during the tournament. After personally living the full March Madness effect, however, I can now totally agree that it impairs concentration on non-basketball activities.

For 3 weeks, during meals, car rides, walks, most of our conversation revolved around the tournament. My husband would randomly blurt out his latest thoughts on UCLA, scouting reports on players and match-ups with other teams, bad calls by the refs, etc.   He was obsessed.

UCLA won their first two rounds and the team was then set to play the overall #1 seed, Florida, in the Sweet Sixteen round. My husband was certain UCLA would win and approached the game like a four-year-old heading to Disneyland, barely able to contain himself. San Diego State (my home-town team) also made the Sweet Sixteen, playing Arizona, so I decided to really start watching and rooting in earnest for these two teams (although my husband informed me the SDSU Aztecs were dead to him since they were playing Arizona from the Pac-12).

And then the madness ended as quickly and abruptly as it began. At the end of the night, my poor husband sat dejected and heartbroken after Florida beat UCLA. And following the next round, there were no more Pac-12 teams left. At the conclusion of the UCLA game, he solemnly declared that his heart was no longer in the tournament, and there was no further reason for him to watch.

We did, of course, watch the rest of the tournament, somewhat somberly (still grieving for UCLA) but with reverence for the survivors. I now feel that I have been properly inculcated into the full March Madness experience. I marvel at the level of fan intensity and have a heightened respect for the emotions provoked by this tournament. The “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” is a gross understatement. But you know what? There’s something oddly appealing about this madness. Maybe next year, I’ll fill out a bracket.

Spring Training

We just returned from a week of Spring Training, and as they say in baseball, it was a rough outing.  In the baseball world, Spring Training helps players get back in shape after a long winter hiatus and prepares teams for the upcoming season.  For my husband and I, the trip was about getting our recreational relationship back in shape after years of career and childrearing, as well as good training for our next season of life.

Here I am in my Giant's gear before our first game

Here I am in my Giant’s gear before our first game

I have several friends who thoroughly enjoy Spring Training games in Arizona.  My husband is a huge San Francisco Giants fan.  So I hatched the brilliant idea of taking a trip to Scottsdale for Giants Spring Training. I went on-line January 9 at 10:00 AM when tickets went on sale, not sure if anything would be available for non-season ticket holders.  When I gleefully discovered there were indeed tickets available, I binged on 5 consecutive game days.   I was sure this trip was going to be a home run!

In the meantime, I’ve been taking golf lessons.  I still stink, but at least I can (usually) make contact.  We recently unburied our golf clubs and bikes in our garage excavation, so we decided to take them with us.  My husband was playing quite a bit of golf when we first met, and riding bikes was a favorite activity in our early years.  My husband volunteered to book the hotel and found a place that was walking distance to Scottsdale Stadium and surprisingly inexpensive.  Man, this was going to be a grand slam homer!

In general, the trip was enjoyable and I would definitely do it again.  We loved the scenic afternoon and sunset drive through the Mojave Desert.  The baseball games were fun and it was interesting to see the different team stadiums.  Three of our games were at the Giants’ stadium in Scottsdale, one was at the KC Royals’ stadium in Surprise, AZ, and the last was at the Dodgers’ facility in Phoenix.  We found some great restaurants, including one quirky place in a former dentist’s office with a lovely outdoor patio in a mostly residential section of Phoenix, where a Charlie Byrd-type character with floor-length dreadlocks and an electric guitar was the entertainment.  On Saturday night, we explored the Desert Botanical Gardens, where there was a special “Chihuly in the Gardens” exhibit featuring spectacular blown glass artwork intermingled with the cacti.  I’d never seen anything like it and it was breathtaking.

We were pleasantly surprised to find our seats behind home plate in the shade for the game against the Royals in Surprise

We were pleasantly surprised to find our seats behind home plate in the shade for the game against the Royals in Surprise

However, the trip was no home run, but rather, as with any typical Spring Training, there were some errors as well as lessons learned.  As I thought about our past trips and recreational activities, I realized that, in the first 23 years of our marriage, we had only two years without kids in the house.  Even our activities during our courtship often included my stepson.  We have been empty nesters the past two years, but until six months ago I was still working and most of the trips we took were to visit our son.  Our married life has predominately been focused on children and work, not on leisure.  So it is understandable that we may be a little rusty in the fun department.

So, in no particular order, here are my observations (or “Coaching Report”) of our Spring Training performance, lessons learned, and things to work on:

1)   Don’t be overly chintzy on the lodging

Once we saw our motel, we understood why it was so inexpensive.  After a lovely first dinner at an upscale pizza joint in Scottsdale, we arrived at the motel, and found that our room included absolutely necessary items but not an inch of excess space or additional amenities.  We also discovered it emitted every sound imaginable.  Cars, trucks, refrigerator, air blowing from the A/C unit, neighbors, babies, you name it.  On top of the noise, the room had an odd odor.   I don’t think I got a restful night sleep the entire time we were there.  Granted we are now on a fixed income, but I am too old and have stayed at too many upscale hotels during my business travel days to go back to Motel 6.  We realized how much an uncomfortable lodging situation detracts from the fun factor.

2)   Be mindful of your partner’s preferences and temperament

After 25 years of marriage, I already knew my husband and I are quite different in certain key areas.  But there is nothing like being cooped up together in a car and a tiny, noisy, smelly room like lab rats for a week to accentuate the dissimilarities.

First of all, my husband is not a morning person.  He’s typically unenthusiastic about anything before noon.   He may wake up at a reasonable hour, but he likes to putz around, catch up on his sporting news, and generally ease into his day.  While I am not a crack of dawn person, I (especially since retiring) am probably most hyper in the morning and start to lose steam as the day progresses.  To me, sitting around all morning is an unfortunate waste of half a day.

An example of the amazing exhibit of blown glass at the Desert Botanical Gardens

An example of the amazing exhibit of blown glass at the Desert Botanical Gardens

Second, when I go on vacation, I love to see and do as much as possible.  The world is my oyster and I can’t bear the thought of missing something really cool.  My husband, on the other hand, likes a slower pace and plenty of downtime to relax.  Naps are one of his favorite vacation activities.

Somewhat related, I am also more of an extrovert than my husband.  He can be quite sociable but he is also perfectly happy with solitude and finds extended bouts with people tiring.  I, on the other hand, although not an extreme extrovert, am more energized by personal interactions and can feel isolated with too much quiet time.

With that as background, and in hindsight, it is not surprising that our two morning golf outings in Scottsdale were just short of disastrous.  After our first baseball game on Wednesday (to which we arrived bleary-eyed and sleep deprived after our first night at Motel Chintzy) I insisted we check out the golf course and reserve tee times for the next two mornings (since the baseball games were at 1 pm).  I also decreed that Saturday morning we would ride bikes.   In my current just-released-from-prison-i.e.-retired state, I was determined to not waste a moment!

But as I should have more wisely predicted, when the alarm went off at 7:30 AM the next morning after another rocky night at The Chintz, I realized I had Mr. Grumpypants for a golf partner.   My husband was clearly not happy to be rising so early and barely spoke until the 5th hole, and even then it was something like “Hey, can you move…. I can’t see the pin.”  He had no patience and it didn’t help that:

1)   I whiffed the ball more than I actually hit it

2)   I was averaging upwards of 9-10 strokes per hole

3)   We had a foursome behind us breathing down our necks

4)   I kept asking if I should use a 1-iron (which apparently doesn’t exist), AND

5)   I was texting on the course (which apparently is poor form)

 Things improved somewhat as the day wore on, but I wouldn’t characterize the outing as Fun.  I looked at it more as a character building exercise.  I remember reading about how Tiger Wood’s dad would employ all sorts of purposely disturbing techniques (like yelling or suddenly rattling keys when Tiger was putting) designed to teach focus and resilience and I thought perhaps golfing with Coach Grumpypants would somehow make me a tougher golfer.

And then, if you can believe it, we went golfing again the next morning with an even earlier tee time!  It was an only slightly better but similar experience and thus unfortunately, largely because of poor timing, our first golf outings together weren’t exactly the home runs I was expecting.

I finally got smart, and we moved our Saturday morning bike ride to that evening, which was much more pleasant.  We rode a beautifully scenic bike path along golf courses, parks, a canal (where we stopped to watch crew racing), and stopped to observe another stunning AZ sunset.

3)   Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

I would characterize communication as one of the strengths in our marriage.  We have always been able to talk through issues and resolve conflict through communication.  After we returned from this trip, we had our usual post-mortem debrief.  We both realized that not everything went as well as it could have.  We identified where we could have done better.

Through our conversations, my husband admitted he was deeply embarrassed about the motel room since he was the one who booked it, and that greatly affected his experience of our trip.  Since he prepaid through Expedia, he felt powerless to remedy the situation so he didn’t address it.  However, we concluded that we should have talked about it and our options on the spot, which would have at least called out the elephant in the room (albeit miniature pygmy elephant in that room) to alleviate any sense of shame.

We also talked about our contrasting temperaments and preferences and how we could better respect and accommodate our differences on future trips together.  Some options may include “parallel play” in the mornings, where I find things to do on my own before noon, leaving him to his quiet time, or, for example, having only one golf morning rather than two.  But in any case, giving each other space and permission to do things differently or separately.

We agreed the most important skill for us to work on is better communication earlier, before feelings get hurt and things go south fast.  The two bad golf outings not only colored our later experiences in the day, but also provoked negative emotions that were hard to put back once they were out of the bottle.   One of my disappointments at the time was that my husband agreed to my frenetic morning plans before we left on our trip and I felt we had a “contract”.  But, as much as pre-trip communication and planning is important (and my husband may have honestly thought he would enjoy golfing in the morning) we don’t always know how we will feel until we are actually in a situation, so there must be room for communication and negotiation and change to address one or both partner’s needs in the moment.

All in all, I think we effectively did our own marital version of Spring Training on this trip.  We worked on getting ourselves back in shape as a couple, identified areas for improvement, and prepared for the upcoming season.  And maybe we learned something.  We went golfing yesterday (LATE morning tee time) and had a great day together on the golf course.   My first home run of the season!!!!!

The Basketball Tripleheader: My Life as a Groupie

I think I’m becoming a Navy sports groupie.  Perhaps I need to “get a life.”  But in the meantime, a highlight of my last trip to Annapolis was a full-day Navy basketball triple header.   We started the day at 9:00 AM, watching the Navy JV basketball team (of which our son is a member) play the NAPS (Naval Academy Preparatory School) team.  Then the Army-Navy basketball doubleheader kicked off in Alumni Hall with the varsity women’s game at 1:30 PM and the varsity men’s at 4:00 PM.

Our son’s game was in the old Halsey Field House gym where my husband used to play when he was a midshipmen. It was a rather unremarkable game, other than the fact that my son got a Charlie horse on each leg and hurt his foot when someone stepped on it. But just being back in a gym watching my son play basketball was pure gold.

After lunch we moved over to glittering Alumni Hall for the Army-Navy games.  For the uninitiated, it must be understood that a primary goal of the U.S. Naval Academy (“Navy”) is to beat the U.S. Military Academy (“Army”) at everything and anything they can.  Likewise, a primary goal of Army is to beat Navy at everything and anything they can.  At times that seems a larger mutual objective than preparing for any foreign enemy. When Navy plays Army in any sport, emotions run at a fever pitch, and a carnival atmosphere results.  It is impossible not to be swept up in the spirit of the Army cadets and Navy midshipmen.

There were so many enjoyable things about the day.  First, I love watching the level to which women’s sports have risen. Having parented only boys, I’ve watched only men’s games for years. Title IX has certainly changed the complexion of the sporting world.  At my high school, the big sports for girls were swimming and softball and I don’t recall the teams given much priority.   Although I’m sure it happened, I don’t remember girls winning athletic college scholarships. It was not particularly cool to be a female “jock” in high school.  I felt my heart swell with pride watching the Navy women play basketball. They are strong and skilled yet still feminine.  Off the court, they are studying science and engineering at one of the most rigorous technical universities in the country. They give me hope!

CDR Becky Calder after her jersey was retired at USNA (photo US Naval Academy)

CDR Becky Calder after her jersey was retired at USNA (photo US Naval Academy)

The halftime entertainment was a group of precision jump-roping elementary and middle school girls called the “Firecrackers.”  They were unbelievably proficient in their tumbling and rope-skipping routines, bringing the midshipmen to their feet with applause. Also at halftime, the Naval Academy Athletic Association retired the first jersey of a woman basketball player, Cdr. Becky Calder (formerly Dowling), a member of the USNA Class of 1998.  As I listened to her biography, I was impressed with her accomplishments on the basketball court.  She was credited with sparking the first successful era for the Navy women’s basketball program at the Division I level. Her class’s four-year total 80 victories set a school record at the time and helped the Navy women win their first Patriot League regular season title. 
Individually, Dowling was selected as the Patriot League’s “Rookie of the Year” in addition to a trio of all-league accolades. She still ranks among Navy’s top 10 career leaders in 15 statistical categories, including 1st in rebounds, rebounding average, steals and minutes played, while also standing 6th in points scored.  Even more so, I was impressed with her accomplishments after graduation from the Naval Academy. Dowling attended flight school and trained to fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet. She became the first female pilot to graduate from Navy’s Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, more commonly called TOPGUN. Dowling was an active duty pilot for 14 years, serving aboard aircraft carriers during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  When interviewed after the game, Becky said “I’m extremely humbled to be the first player in program history to have my jersey retired. I’m proud, but what makes me most happy is knowing that I won’t be the last.” I loved that the current Navy women’s team stayed court side during the half-time ceremony, and the look of inspiration on their face was priceless. Way to keep chipping away at that glass ceiling!

After halftime, the Navy women went on to beat Army by 10.  I noticed during the women’s game, many of the male players came out of the locker rooms to cheer on the women.  The tradition after an Army-Navy game is for each team’s alma mater to be played, the winning team’s last.  Both teams (and cadets and midshipmen in attendance) stand at attention for each other’s alma mater, but Army ends theirs with “Beat Navy!” and Navy ends theirs with “Beat Army!”  It is inspiring to watch young people from both academies show their mutual respect to each other and to their rivalry.  (Note that nobody yells “Beat Air Force!” which really gets under the “Zoomies’” skin; in fact, I once saw a bumper sticker that said “Go Navy!  Beat Army!  Air Force is irrelevant.”)

Then it was announced that between basketball games, members of the Navy football team would be in Alumni Hall signing autographs.  I was beside myself.  I bolted from my seat to search out my favorite Navy players.  Mainly I wanted to see Keenan Reynolds (QB) and Nick Sloan (PK).  Although I tried not to be TOO obvious, I have what I can only describe as a “Mom-Crush” on these two players; meaning I wish I could be their second mom.  It is totally irrational, but through three seasons of attending most Navy football home games, and following the ups and downs of the team and individual players, I found myself bonding from afar with these young men. I feel an odd kinship and pride in them like they were my own sons. Reynolds, because we’ve watched him play out the all-American success story – thrust into a big game as a freshman to relieve an injured (and ineffective) starting quarterback and leading his team to victory and who is on his way to becoming one of the most successful QBs in Navy history.  Sloan, the kicker, because he’s from San Diego and I admire how he kept his composure this past season to achieve success following crushing failures.

Tip off at the Navy Men's Basketball Game

Tip off at the Navy Men’s Basketball Game

I walked (suppressing the urge to run) over and found a very long table with my favorite Navy players, Keenan at the end.   I realized that (1) in my haste I didn’t bring anything for them to sign; and (2) most of the people getting autographs were under 10 years old and 5 feet tall.  So, I coolly walked down the table and stared at all of the guys.  I’m sure if any of them had looked at me, I would have creeped them out.   Then I stationed myself near Keenan at the end of the table and just stared at him for a while.  After about 10 minutes of staring, I decided to take action.  I approached Nick Sloan, said something lame about being from San Diego and complimented him on “hanging in there” and shook his hand. To his credit, he acted like he thought me being from San Diego was interesting and introduced me to the guy next to him who he said was also from San Diego and who played my high school in football.  My courage up, I went back to Keenan and waited for my opportunity.  When a break in the young autograph-seekers occurred, I shoved my hand in his face, asked if I could shake his hand, congratulated him on a great season and asked him how his eyes were. (In their Bowl game, a horrid player on the other team was caught on camera trying to poke Keenan’s eyes after a tackle.  In my role as second mom, I’ve been worrying about his eyes ever since.)  He shook my hand and said, in response to my question about his eyes, “They’re fine, ma’am.”

Reggie Miller joins the sportscasting team for coverage of the men's game

Reggie Miller joins the sportscasting team for coverage of the men’s game

Then I went back to my seat and watched Army beat Navy by five points in the men’s basketball game.  But not before Reggie Miller (former UCLA basketball star) showed up to do the play-by-play and sit less than 20 yards in front of me. The “Firecrackers” put on another spectacular halftime show, again bringing the midshipmen to their feet. At the end of the game, the Army alma mater played last, but it was still a great Navy day.  It was the kind of day I have almost come to expect when visiting the Academy, where I am surprised and delighted and inspired by the talent and character of the young people I am exposed to.    And I am never washing my right hand again.